Though he was once a member of the esteemed indie rock hierarchy the Palace Brothers, Will Oldham is best known these days for his traveling troubadour persona Bonnie “Prince” Billy. The albums he has put out under this guise rank as some of the best of his career, particularly 2000’s “I See a Darkness” and 2002’s “Ease Down the Road.”
But while the Bonnie “Prince” you know and love sings tiny, rustic nuggets of New Weird Americana perfect for quiet nights on the couch with a pipe of your finest tea, the version he took with him on the road in the summer of 2004 is a whole other beast entirely.
Consisting of four guitars (including David Bird on “left” guitar and Matt Sweeney on “right”), his brother Paul on bass, keyboardist Ryder McNair, drummer Peter Townsend (no relation) and some chick named Pink Nasty on backups, this ‘roided rendition of the Bonnie sound brought houses down. It is this band that is captured on “Summer on the Southeast.”
With all due respect, 2003’s “Master and Everyone” is a bit of a snoozer to say the least. But here, the title track is transformed into a heavy rock explosion like when Neil Young plays that electric version of “Pocahontas” in “Year of the Horse.” Oldham’s standing collaboration with guitarist Sweeney, Superwolf, seems to have taken over the spirit of his live show, and all for the better.
“May It Always Be” is rewired into a frantic “Loaded”-era VU boogie, while “O Let It Be” and “Madeline Mary” are transformed as fuzz-stomping mountain rockers. But fear not, sensitive folkies, as Oldham offers just enough quiet moments to discredit any cries of “Judas!” from the crowd, including “Wolf Among Wolves” and “Even if Love.”
This is a live album the way it ought to be produced: sincere and surprising, a true alternative to your well-worn copies of the studio recordings. Let’s just hope Oldham doesn’t start to have delusions of rock stardom and pull a Starship on us. Or a Zwan.