Bonnie “Prince” Billy Live @ The Apollo

125th Street in Harlem has its own sort of magic. Of course, it is the location of the world famous Apollo Theater, site of some of the greatest moments in music history. But, the vibe goes beyond that and stretches outwards and onwards towards a type of mystical union of African and American realities. With the right kind of eyes the store-fronts and soul-food joints can be seen as from a different era and a different place other than Gotham. A dirty/pretty place full of vibrancy, music, and tears.

Probably to some other people, the idea of Bonnie “Prince” Billy appearing at the Apollo makes little or no sense. To me, it made all the sense in the world if for no other reason than Will Oldham inhabits a magical reality every bit as vibrant as 125th Street, though more back-woods and denim-clad. Looking every bit like a homeless man plucked off of the streets of 1950s Denver and dressed in hand-me-down work clothes, Bonnie “Prince” Billy humbly made the Apollo his for the night. The songs were non-categorizable, a mixture of Appalachian folk, Nashville country, and acid-blues, and were played in perfect loose shambles by a band of total professional weirdoes and one angel-voiced beauty on fiddle. My eyes fought me the entire night in a struggle to watch the Bonnie Prince and his majestic squalor, jerking, flailing, mumbling, emoting stark beauty and rambling perfection, while unable to look away from the absolute loveliness that is violinist and singer Cheyenne Mize. A complete counter-balance to Bonnie’s bearded gruff both visually and vocally, Cheyenne Mize was like a shining golden lost statue in the underbrush of a forgotten backwoods whiskey still. On stage with Bonnie, the bearded and bearish Jim White, and the rest of the motley male touring band, Cheyenne Mize was everything female; light, soft, gorgeous. And she can sing and play.

The crowd, NYC hipsters and wanna-be Bonnies, was nevertheless appreciative of the Prince and his band and gave good applause. Besides Cheyenne Mize, another fantastic highlight was the appearance of Matt Sweeney for a rendition of “Blood Embrace” that included the spoken word spot taken from the Jon Voight film Coming Home. Amazing, like the night, the Apollo, the band, the woman, the Bonnie Prince…