World Party @ Crescent Ballroom|12/2/12
It was almost with a sigh of relief that Karl Wallinger and World Party began their Crescent Ballroom concert with "Waiting Such A Long Time," as it has been some years since Wallinger has taken World Party on a large-scale tour.
But it wasn't that Wallinger didn't want to take the band out, rather he was slowed by a brain aneurysm that left him unable to walk and talk, let alone play an instrument. Even after a lengthy rehab session got him in working order again, and Wallinger immediately tested that idea with a successful gig, the bandleader instead focused on creating the expansive, career-spanning 5-CD box set, Arkeology.
With all that out of the way Wallinger at last can focus on what he does best: play music. World Party has only released five albums in its 25-year career, so there isn't a dearth of material, and the concert, with the exception of a few lesser-known songs was pretty much a greatest hits package. This, however, was exactly what the generally older crowd--fans that were 20- and 30-somethings when World Party was in its 1990s prime--wanted.
"Is It Like Today" and "Put the Message in the Box" were warmly greeted like old friends as Wallinger put his band of mostly young Nashvillians through the paces on these classic numbers. And though he complained of being in poor voice, he sounded clear and confident as he too obviously was enjoying the moment.
After a grooving "When the Rainbow Comes" Wallinger moved on the keyboards for a series of songs, beginning with the hit "She's The One," a song penned for his mum, and turned into a chart-topping smash by Robbie Williams. While Wallinger bounced along with the catchy song, he was also instructing his band. This young crew on bass, drums and keys was a bit tight early on, but gradually loosened up, especially when things got rocking. (Speaking of young, take the beard off the bassist and he might have been 14--which wouldn't diminish his talent, adequate to the task.)
Also sharing the stage from was a fiddle/mandolin player/vocalist who served as the perfect counterpoint to Wallinger, setting up Wallinger's inventive guitar leads or lending a well-timed "oooh" or "aaaah."
After completing the keyboard run with an emotionally heavy "God on My Side" and "Call Me Up"--which Wallinger introduced by saying: "I wrote this in a little shack in the Klondike with my little dog team. ... Really, it's the truth"--he launched into the bouncy "Sunshine." This version rested heavily on the long violin notes that perfectly supported the acoustic passage.
Wallinger continued on the mellower path with "Everybody's Falling in Love" before kicking it up again with the chugging train-like intro and distorted "Vanity Fair" backed by a manic Dylan-esque "Who Are You." Wallinger even looked a bit tested during this number, but came out smiling.
By this time the band had loosened up and was fully engaged, turning the show into a full on party, which made the transition into well-received hits "Is It Too Late?," "Ship of Fools" and a full-force "Way Down Now" a rocking one.
The encore began with an acoustic duet with Wallinger and his mandolinist sharing a microphone for "Mystery Girl." The pair's close proximity almost caused the song to falter, but brought a smile to both men and nearly laughter as well about halfway through the rendition. With the band back on stage Wallinger went back to his electric, but struggled to tune it, as he had all night.
"What kind of tuning do you use Karl?" came a cry from the audience.
"Irregular tuning it seems," Wallinger shot back dryly, and proceeded to explain that his regular guitar was damaged on the flight over from England.
"I got it to the studio and opened the case and... well it was fucked," he said while still attempting to tune his new Gibson Les Paul. "It has a 30 day approval. I'm not feeling very approving," he quipped, before putting it down and returning to the acoustic for "Sweet Soul Dream." He did go electric for the final rousing, feedback-washed song of the evening, "Thank You World," which closed things out in fine style.
As fitting as the opening number was, so was this finale, Wallinger's chance at appreciation of those who've come to see him on this night, but also those who helped and supported him through trying times so he could lead a normal life again. And as he walked off stage, the Phoenix crowd offered him plenty of thanks as well.
Last Night: World Party @ Crescent Ballroom
Personal bias: Longtime fan, fourth time seeing the band. Still think the show in 1996 with the horn section was tops.
The crowd: A generally older, but not old crowd of fans who were 20- and 30-somethings when the band broke 25 years ago.
Random notebook dump: I'm not sure I show trust a mandolin player in black leather pants and cowboy boots.
Overheard: "That was an hour and 45 minute show? It feels like only 20 minutes have passed."