The Austin Chronicle Guide to SXSW 2017

The Civil Wars

SXSW showcase reviews

Live Shots
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

The Civil Wars

Victorian Room at the Driskill, Friday, March 18

To be clear, Joy Williams and John Paul White aren't sleeping together, but damn if there won't be more than a few babies credited to their live shows. The duo opened with "Tip of My Tongue," Williams caressing the mic stand and swaying to the rhythm of White's acoustic guitar, trills spilling from her curled lips as he closed his eyes and rose in inflection to meet her. It's not only the chemistry between them; it's that palpable tension that never resolves yet continues to climax, as on "20 Years" when the California wildflower lightly moans into the reaching harmonies of the stubble-stricken northern Alabama native and hovers her wandering hands all-but-touching above his arms and guitar. Or on "From This Valley" as they slip into orgasmic a cappella oohs with the heat of a packed room building on every quiver. Or even the coy stomp of her high heels on "Oh Henry" and the resonator-bitten title track from the pair's recent debut, Barton Hollow (Sensibility). Kissing the middle ground between the Swell Season and the Low Anthem, the two's harmonies still overly indulge at times, with White needing to take advantage of the natural lower ranges of his tenor. Yet turning down the covers with a stunningly slowed version of the Smashing Pumpkins' "Disarm" and closing with the passionate pull of breakout "Poison and Wine," the Civil Wars left little but ashes to be swept out in the morning.

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