Concert Review: World Party, Asheville NC 3 June 2014

One of the many joys of taking in a live show in Asheville is intimacy: arrive early, and it’s as likely as not that the artist you’ve paid to see will be enjoying his or her dinner (and/or a pint) at the table next to you. So it was last night at The Grey Eagle, an excellent music venue that has only gotten better of late. With a dramatically improved sound system (not to mention addition of HVAC), it’s one of the best places in the region to enjoy live music, up close and personal.

Karl Wallinger is the prime mover of World Party; at various points in the group’s nearly thirty-year history WP has been Wallinger and/or one to several additional players. The one constant throughout (five albums of original material, a couple of compilations, and Arkeology, a five-disc set of previously unreleased odds and sods that plays as well as a new album) has been Wallinger and his highly melodic, hook-laden songs plus the man’s winning, engaging persona.

For World Party’s current US tour – the second or third since Wallinger’s recovery from an aneurysm that left him needing to re-learn how to play guitar – the group is a trio: Wallinger on (amplified) acoustic guitar and piano, plus longtime associates David Duffy (violin) and Tristan Powell John Turnbull (Gibson Les Paul). All three sing beautifully.

Right out of the gate, the trio sought to please the audience (well-attended but not a capacity crowd). Over the course of a couple of hours, they bounced back and forth through World Party’s back catalog, picking and choosing the best from among a vast array of gems. Arguably the group’s finest effort (but sadly the one that fared the poorest in the marketplace, owing to circumstances beyond Wallinger’s control: the label went under), Egyptology provided four tunes for this night’s set.

And though the trio has no rhythm section (bass and drums), surprisingly, that instrumentation wasn’t missed. While Wallinger provided expressive rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Duffy and Powell managed to deliver every signature lick and hook of the original studio arrangements. While Powell recreated his leads (that’s him on a lot of the studio cuts, especially the later material) Duffy in particular did a great job of evoking the feel of the original arrangements with his fiddle, while helping to give the songs an even more warm and intimate vibe.

And those adjectives – warm and intimate – truly were the order of the evening. When Wallinger shifted to the Nord Stage keyboard, he led the group through a suite of piano-based numbers, including the elegiac “She’s the One.” And on that number as with many others, the audience pitched in to help, singing along, seemingly knowing most or all of the lyrics. A delight from start to finish, the show ended with rousing applause, leafing Wallinger to suggest that the band “avoid a whole lot of bother” and get right to the encore, dispensing with the play-acting of leaving the stage, waiting for the applause to swell further, and rushing back out. By the set’s end, Wallinger was visibly exhausted, having given his all. I hope he brings World Party back to Asheville soon for another set of timeless music.

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