It’s difficult to photograph a band in lamplight. Then again, it’s impossible to conceive of The Babblers without it. Eschewing traditional lighting and triumphal entry, the band embarked upon their set the way they arrived in Columbus: slinking on stage in near-darkness without introduction, content to let the music bring the house to its feet and burn it to the ground.
It was something of a surprise show from one of the latest acts to spark some buzz among the musically gregarious (mostly intermingling murmurs: ‘what just happened?’ and ‘who are they?’). We all knew Will Oldham would be there. But now, after witnessing The Babblers first hand, it is embarrassing to admit that his was the name which enticed me out into the frozen December night—so embarrassing, in fact, that I will no longer mention the names of any of the six Babblers.
From the moment they lit the first floor lamp, to the extinguishing of the final fairy light, it was clear that The Babblers were about the experience: that experience being the performance of Kevin Coyne and Dagmar Krause’s 1979 album Babble, in its entirety. The album, already constructed with drama in mind, is only enhanced by the interpretation of half-a-dozen top notch musicians fully capable of (and committed to) extracting each bit of intensity from the male and female traded vocals, sudden operatic dynamic changes, and every filthy groove in one hour’s time. And the final result is something that inhabits the magical dreamworld that lies between Patsy Cline and The Sugarcubes.
And there, among the lamplit mess of urban-camo hooded footie pajamas and oversized dark sunglasses, I, too, was left with the same ruminations folks of my ilk have been entertaining all over the Eastern half of the United States for a fortnight now. What had I witnessed? I’ll admit, given the time of year, the weather outside, and the trellis bedecked in fairy lights standing center-stage, there is a certain temptation for the Romantic enthusiast in me to declare it some sort of Christmas miracle. But, for better or worse, millennial cynicism has cut us off from tasteful hyperbole and I’d hate to cheapen the experience. The details I had going into the show were fuzzy to begin with. Witnessing The Babblers in person only confuses the matter. And I think it’s better that way.