“I’m a wizard, not a Musician”: Willis Earl Beal at The Tabernacle
1 The look John Carlos, Mexico City 1968. One black-gloved hand. (On the right hand, though Carlos’s was on the left, but he looks more like Carlos than Smith). Cross that with Aaron Neville in his muscle/t-shirt days. Sunglasses. Tight jeans. Cowboy boots. Occasional wearing of a sheet as a cape. Sheet starts evening covering up AKAI reel-to-reel.
2 Poses With cape, and standing on chair, superhero. Stalking stage with mic: Grace Jones meets Emo Philips. Albequerque-back-porch-stretched-out-almost-horizontal-feet-crossed for one song.
3 Voice Paul Robeson. Tom Waits. The Mavericks’ Raul Malo. Something of James Carr. I’m just trying to give pointers. He doesn’t really sing/sound like any of ’em.
4 Tools Simple. Shaker Simple in comparison to most. Aforementioned reel-to-reel tape recorder (gotta love a performer whose set list is contained on a reel of tape). Open-tuned electric guitar, played on lap with strings fretted by thumb, Richie Havens-style, and amp. Drink that looks like Rum and Coca Cola. Belt, taken off and used to whip chair at one point.
5 Songs Some are no more than a backing track of cheap synth beat overlaid by buzzing insect sound, here mutated into a compelling signal to noise. One of the guitar songs is almost a classic Southern Soul Ballad. I don’t know what their titles are, I’d only heard one track before going, but all are declaimed with a frightening intensity, and as we’re all sitting/standing very close, it’s a little like watching performance art.
I love an act that grabs the evening by the scruff of the neck and, by force of will, carries an audience—even as they’re trying to get a handle on what the hell’s been put in front of them. And ends it with: “We need you to buy the album, Acousmatic Sorcery… [long pause] …the action figures [long pause] …the pencils… [long pause] …and if you do I will then personally come to your house and give you benediction.”