If you had never laid eyes on singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons, you'd never think that his wispy delicate voice came from the body that walked on stage.
When he entered. his large tattooed arms carried his guitar while his worn-looking boots stomped across the Crescent Ballroom. He glanced at the audience through round wire-framed glasses that barely covered his eyes. A build like a sailor was underneath his blue, short-sleeve Dickies shirt, and his shaved head glistened under the purple lights. He could've been mistaken for a member of the crew because he didn't even approach the microphone.
He ran his hand through his long beard and walked right past the microphones and amps, towered on the edge of the stage, and launched into his set. No amp was turned on. No sound came out of the speakers. No one in the audience spoke for those first five minutes. Those who were sitting in the rafters made their way to the stage so they could at least hear Fitzsimmons sing.
The three other members of his band joined in to play old songs, such as "Beautiful Girl," from his 2011 release Gold In The Shadow, and new songs from Lions, which was released in February. Then just as the room became weighed down with the seriousness of Fitzsimmons' songs, he lightened the mood with his honesty and self-awareness ("Seriously, [my songs] fucking sound exactly alike," he declared). It was a mix between an episode of VH1's Storytellers and a stand-up routine. He often quipped that he was going to slow things down a bit.
Fitzsimmons apologized to the crowd for not visiting Phoenix for more than two years and spoke about what transpired in his life since. He adopted two daughters who prefer Miley Cyrus to his music. He said Lions is his attempt to write songs that go beyond the feeling of sadness because he knows he "has that emotion down pretty well." He explained before he performed the song "Took" that it was based upon the biological mother of his children.
He also went into a monologue regarding his mixed feelings for his last album, It was his attempt to write songs intentionally for the radio, which is ironic considering he is one of the go-to artists for shows like Grey's Anatomy. He explained his conflict as a songwriter trying to reconcile maintaining honesty in his music with expanding his audience.
Much like his banter, Fitzsimmons' songs tended to ramble on in the best way possible. There is no traditional structure to his music. You're never going to wait for a chorus or bridge when he sings about his sick friend during his song "Bird of Winter Prey" or his "dumb-ass" brother on "When You Were Young." They are story songs and crescendo in cool and unusual ways. They are small chapters in the book of his life and those who fill it. The former mental health therapist probably put it best when he described the title track of Lions: "It's better to try to understand people than it is to be understood."
The encore started much like his opener. The four members of his band descended into the audience with no microphones or amps and played "Passion Play" and a cover of Tom Petty's "Wildflowers" in four part harmony. (He played a mellow version of Rhianna's "Umbrella" a few songs prior.) He rounded out the show alone with the audience favorites "Everything Has Changed" and "Goodmorning."
Last Night: William Fitzsimmons with Leif Vollebekk at Crescent Ballroom
Personal Bias: I am a sad bastard, and last night we were united as one.
The crowd: Reverent, except for the two girls next to me who had some drama on their hands and talked incessantly.
Overheard in the Crowd: "He's like Bob Dylan's brother!" A reference to Montreal singer-songwriter Leif Vollebekk. I thought Jeff Buckley was more accurate.
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