Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Cairo Gang at Sweat Records, May 31

See the full 20-photo Bonnie "Prince" Billy and the Cairo Gang at Sweat Records slideshow.

Bonnie Prince Billy and Cairo Gang with Angel Olsen

Sweat Records

May 31, 2011

Better Than: Mashed potatoes.

Will Oldham (AKA Bonnie Prince Billy) and Emmett Kelly (AKA Cairo Gang), and singer Angel Olsen performed a dangerously powerful acoustic set last night.

If you were paying any attention and have a pulse, there was the distinct possibility that you might weep publicly. The hourlong set at Sweat Records was part of the trio's Free Florida tour, offering beautiful performances at no cost to a state that doesn't often get to see the best music.

As the small space filled with devout fans and the curious, a man in the front said, "Will, I hope you do 'Wonder,' that song is beautiful." And just like that, the show began. Oldham's voice filled the room with actual wonder (not the request), singing "That's What Our Love Is" off his and Cairo Gang's album The Wonder Show of the World. At one point, forgetting the lyrics, the three laughed.

Dressed all in white, the singer bounced a bit on his tippy toes, his arms sometimes taking on a life of their own. At one point, he even pirouetted. All three performers tapped their feet on the hollow stage while Oldham and Kelly sang out the sides of their mouths. Three voices sounded like ten. And the songs they played were timeless, haunting, and romantic.

At the start of "I See a Darkness," Oldham hopped on a speaker in the corner, singing down to Kelly. It was fun to watch them all watch each other, singing in harmony and really enjoying being onstage. As they warmed up, the crowd did too. Oldham asked, "Anyone want to text us a request?" The audience yelled, "West Palm Beach!" to which he responded, "I said text us! Don't you have enough West Palm Beach?" They then took a request for "Drunk at the Pulpit."

By the end of the show, the crowd was appropriately singing along to "So Everyone." It was clear that the crowd was moved. And outside, everyone was talking about how wonderful the show was. The three even joined some of their friends for a drink at Churchill's afterward where the Heat game and Literary Death Match competed for everyone's attention. There's really nothing cooler that's happened around here in a long time. Bonnie "Prince" Billy and the Cairo Gang didn't just free Florida last night, they gave us something fantastic that will stay with us forever.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: A little girl, a couple of oldies, and mostly people not wearing too much makeup.

Random Detail: I yawned. But it was only because it was really hot, not because I was bored.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Play R. Kelly!"


-"That's What Our Love Is"

-"Teach Me to Bear"



-"Night Noises"

-"Island Brothers"

-"No Match"


-"I Called You Back"

-"So Everyone"

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Liz Tracy has written for publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, Refinery29, W, Glamour, and, of course, Miami New Times. She was New Times Broward-Palm Beach's music editor for three years. Now she plays one mean monster with her 2-year-old son and obsessively watches British mysteries.
Contact: Liz Tracy