The Civil Wars + Matthew and The Atlas @ HMV Institute Digbeth – Tuesday 13th March 2012

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Review and photos by Russ Powney

Tonight’s proceedings commence with the introduction of Matthew And The Atlas fronted by Matthew Hegarty.  This evening we are treated to a new ‘stripped to the bone’, mostly acoustic set supported by violin and banjo.  Matthew Hegarty delivers his message in an often haunting style referencing English Folk, but equally we are transported to Greenwich Village New York, deliberating all things Americana.  It’s a simple mantra but one that is deeply moving.

Laying down an opening salvo, Matthew And The Atlas prove to be the perfect foil for tonight’s headliners, The Civil Wars. They lead us on a journey of beauty exploring life and all that it has to offer. The Civil Wars star is rising. This is an undeniable fact. A highly lauded first album and two Grammy awards are testimony enough. Regularly selling out 2000 capacity venues in the USA leading them, inevitably, to Birmingham, England and the beginning of their first UK headline tour. Both Joy Williams and John Paul White visibly express delight when they walk onto the stage and are greeted with a capacity crowd tightly packed into this wonderful venue. The HMV Institute is laid out like a mini opera house and one wonders if it was deliberately chosen as it seems the perfect place for The Civil Wars tour to start.

The interaction was plain to see, beautiful and poetic, simple and uncluttered; just a single guitar and simply breathtaking vocals, singing about love, heartache and everything in between.  Acoustic guitar was the main stay of the evening however when John Paul reached for an electric guitar the dynamic changed. Another door opened; still beautiful but this time with a darker side, slightly more edgy.  The change of guitar brought with it the title track from their album ‘Barton Hollow’ and the cry of “I’m a dead man walking”.  Each song was spine tingling, totally immersing and a joy to behold.

There are many genres in music to suit all tastes and, regardless of personal likes and dislikes, it is difficult to argue against the genius of The Civil Wars. Their stripped-down approach blends harmony and apparently effortless musicianship with a dark soul that holds and captivates. Music in its purest form as witnessed tonight is simply overwhelmingly magical.  Long may their star continue to rise.