Williams was not bashful.
If, say, a pair of travelers had gotten completely lost Wednesday night and stumbled into the Dar Williams show at the Barrymore Theatre, seeking to orient themselves, all they'd have had to do was wait for a song to end to ascertain that they were indeed on the east side of Madison.
The pop-folksinger was in her element, to say the least, her jokey, un-self-conscious banter bubbling up and running over itself, as if she were a real-life, musical version of Lorelai from Gilmore Girls. Williams probably spoke as much as she sang, and that's no complaint -- it's just hard to say whether the tunes or the talking was more fun to listen to. OK, it's not hard: It was the tunes. But it was pretty close.
A few topics she discussed, to thorough approval from the nearly full house, that made it easy to pinpoint where we were, geographically speaking: public radio, CSAs ($1 from each ticket sold went to the Partner Shares Program at the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition), Wicca, the evils of bottled water, lesbians.
Madison's Tracy Jane Comer warmed up the crowd with a well-received half-hour acoustic mix of songs and instrumental pieces. She seemed thrilled to be sharing a bill with Williams, and a little bashful.
The headliner, joined onstage by a keyboardist, was not bashful. After opening with "Spring Street," from her 2000 album The Green World, she launched into a story about how "in the '90s, there was this thing called 'the record label,'" to introduce her next song, 2008's "The Easy Way." The anecdote lasted about as long as the performances that preceded and followed it, and that was pretty much how the whole night continued. It made for a set that was both lively and laid-back, and that felt shorter than its approximately 90 minutes.
Some of Williams' best moments:
- Describing the friend who inspired "Blue Light of the Flame," from 2005's My Better Self, as "often naked, because she lived in Vermont."
- Before playing "The Hudson": "I don't know any rivers around here! The Kickapoo? Kickapoo! Righteous!"
- As part of the same bit, sharing her reaction when she learned that Salt Lake City's residents had named their own local river the Jordan: "That shows great confidence."
- The entirety of "The Babysitter's Here," from her 1993 debut The Honesty Room, about as sweet and true and sad and funny as you can expect words set to music to be.
- When she asked if anyone in the audience had a guitar pick, explained that she'd lost her last one, said she'd be fine without it, and then -- after a triumphant member of the crowd ran one up to the stage -- announced with relief: "OK, 'cause I was so totally lying -- this song sounds horrific without a pick!"
- Explaining how the tune in question, "Buzzer," had come from a dream in which fellow singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin was singing a German aria: "Even in my dreams, I was like, 'Why does Colvin always get the best arias?!"
- Her protracted apology for having bottled water onstage, rather than a non-disposable container, and the former's abrupt replacement with the latter.
- Her dedication of her haunting cover of "Midnight Radio," from rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, to Tyler Clementi, the New Jersey college freshman who committed suicide after being outed as gay. "The problem with his passing," Williams said, describing a musical performance Clementi had put on at his church, "is that the world needs violin-playing unicyclists."
- After explaining that she'd written crowd favorite "The Christians and the Pagans" in an effort to attract Wiccan fans: "It didn't work. All I got was Unitarians."