Dar Williams Review
By Mark Hilton
Folk-pop singer-songwriter Dar Williams is no stranger to Iowa. Williams last visited the state with renowned singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright, but her history runs much deeper than that. Williams was performing in Iowa when she received a call from the Fleming Tamulevich booking agency saying that they were willing to take a chance on her. Heck, one of her songs is even named for the state. This past Thursday, June 12, Williams was back in Iowa at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City, a visit occasioned by the 20th anniversary of her debut album The Honesty Room.
In celebration, Williams played through the album in its entirety. The Englert seats were mostly full when Williams took the stage just after 9:00 PM. With only the guitar in her hands and the microphone in front of her, Williams began to revisit her first full album and the experiences that inspired it. Nearly every song was introduced with a lengthy, but informative explanation or story that revealed the aspects of Williams’ earlier life that had informed her songwriting. “When I Was a Boy” deals with growing up a tomboy, and the dampened guitar playing on “Alleluia” was an attempt at emulating the guitar techniques of her contemporaries in the early 90s, she explained. “This Is Not the House That Pain Built” had its inspiration in seeing a solitary woman and her son living in an adobe house in New Mexico that bore the inscription, “This is the house that love built.” “The Babysitter’s Here,” one of the album’s most famous tracks, was eagerly greeted by the audience, which was both intimately familiar and deeply enamored with Williams. Following her performance of The Honesty Room, Williams brought opening act Lucy Wainwright Roche out to help her sing “Iowa.” Halfway through, Williams invited members of the audience up on stage for a joyous sing along of a song that engenders curiosity about the state wherever Williams plays it.
It’s fitting that Roche opened the show for Williams. Roche’s father, the aforementioned Loudon Wainwright, has toured and been a long supporter of Williams’, even crying as he played the The Honesty Room for a young Lucy; an older Lucy worked as a nanny for Williams’ sons. Roche only played about four-and-a-half songs (a cover of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” was abandoned because Roche had to cough) during her 40-minute set, but it never lacked for entertainment. Between songs, Roche told stories about touring with her half-brother, singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, held a question and answer session with the audience, and helped a mother find her son in the dark theater. Her dog, Maybe, even made an appearance on stage, looking slightly bemused about the whole thing. Though her set didn’t serve as a comprehensive introduction to Roche’s music, it did provide the audience with a glimpse of a gifted, and truly funny, musician.
Williams stood alone on the stage, free to explore and explain her past songs as she wished. As she revisited the people, places, moods, and feelings that led to the creation of The Honesty Room, the audience sat rapt, attentive to the words and music of a woman whose songs continue to resonate with them.