(Note: There are three videos of this show at the end of the review.)
Therapist-turned-folk singer William Fitzsimmons was absolutely terrific Sunday night at Silver Moon Brewing & Taproom in Bend, thanks to a whole bunch of people.
Thanks to Fitzsimmons, certainly. And Jake Phillips and Rosi Golan, who played and sang with him. And Silver Moon’s booker, Cassie Moore, who did all she could to ensure a quiet place for Fitzsimmons to play his stark, sad-sack tunes.
Oh, and the several dozen people who showed up to the show. Kudos to them, too.
People forget sometimes that a great live-music experience isn’t just the responsibility of the performing artist. The venue plays a role, as does the crowd.
On Sunday night, everyone did their job. As I approached Silver Moon, I worried about a clash between Fitzsimmons’ quiet style and the chatty class that often hangs around the back half of the bar, so when I stopped to pay the cover and talk to Cassie, I was happy to see someone had covered the pool table with fabric, so as to discourage the endless knocking of pool balls.
Another good sign: The place wasn’t packed to the gills, a result, perhaps, of the double-digit ticket price, which surely kept out folks who weren’t interested in the music. Everyone who was there was seated, ready to actually listen to the show. How refreshing.
In fact, when Fitzsimmons did stroll out and onto the stage, the bar went silent, and quick. He apologized for drinking Bud Light, recounted his only previous trip to Bend (his van broke down), and made a few jokes: “You guys ready for some rock ‘n’ roll tonight? Well, it’s the wrong show for that. But I do have a lot of really, really depressing folk songs,” he said. “We’ll have a good time. As good a time as you can have at a William Fitzsimmons show, which is somewhere between the day after Christmas and your cat dying.”
From there, it was a solid, straightforward, dead-cat William Fitzsimmons show. The man — his head shaved bald and his dark beard as big and bushy as ever — gently plucked and sighed his way through 70 minutes of material, never raising his voice above a breathy whisper. Even when Fitzsimmons was mid-song, the DING! of the cook’s bell rang loud and clear. When a couple of guys out on Greenwood Avenue started shouting, Moore closed the bar’s door to shut out the sound. From then on, every time someone walked in or out, you could hear that door creak above what was happening on stage.
Whatever the show lacked in dynamics, it made up for in intensity and emotion. Fitzsimmons played several songs from his breakthrough 2008 album “The Sparrow and The Crow,” which details his infidelity and divorce in excruciating detail. He explained that “I Don’t Feel It Anymore” tells his ex-wife’s side of the story — the side not often voiced when artists write about a breakup — and he introduced “Just Not Each Other” as a song about hope. He said “Find Me To Forgive” is about “learning how to ask forgiveness, even if you think it’s too late (because) it’s usually not.” That one drove at least one woman in the audience to tears.
It was that kind of night. In between songs, Fitzsimmons was entertaining in his deadpan and self-deprecating way, but when he sang, it was every bit as gut-wrenching as his recorded work, and expertly delivered. Halfway through, the night’s opening act, Golan, joined Fitzsimmons and Phillips and added another layer of harmony to the mix that was sublime. Those harmonies were especially noticeable when, for the final song of the main set, the band left the stage and walked to the middle of the room, where they played a truly acoustic, unamplified version of “Goodmorning,” a simple, gorgeous and hopeful song that ends “The Sparrow and The Crow.” Its lyrics:
“Moonlight will fall
Winter will end
Harvest will come
Your heart will mend
You will find love
You will find love”
By playing that song unplugged, Fitzsimmons declared his trust in those at the Silver Moon, that they would continue doing what they’d done all night: listening intently. And they obliged.