A Dar Williams show has the quiet, captivating quality of a living room concert by your favorite artist. By turns confessional, adorkable and almost tear-jerkingly intimate, the singer-songwriter held this standard when she wove through a 15-song set peppered with amusing, revealing and often touching personal anecdotes at City Winery.
Though the room was diffuse, the expected wine and food demanding attention on the venue’s long tables, all eyes and ears were front and center for Williams’ quietly insinuating tunes. With a drummer and keyboard player accompanying her, her dusky voice is well-suited to the timeless melodies of “Something to Get Through,” a tune that could have been written in 1975 or 2005.
In fact, Williams has been purveying her brand of no-shtick singer-songwriting since her 1990 debut album. Addressing global, autobiographical and socio-political topics through her thoughtful personal lens, she’s as powerful on upbeat tunes like the lilting, confident “Spring Street” as she is poignant on the achingly beautiful ode to family and love, “I Have Been Around the World.” Dedicated to her husband, the almost unbearably sweet but never cloying song, with lyrics including “I have been around the world from sea to shining sea / I wish that you were here / You’re all the world to me,” would make an ideal wedding tune.
That gentle ode was fittingly pitted against “Buzzer,” an energetic, edgy, rocky rave-up. Williams’ more dynamic songs were a welcome burst of energy among her quieter fare, a strong and necessary counterpoint to more expansive lyrical and aural travelogues like ‘Emerald,” the title track to her 2015 album.
Also off Emerald is song that’s got kitsch but charm (plus hit potential), a rollicking co-write with another talented but under-appreciated artist, Jill Sobule. “FM Radio” should be in a Cameron Crowe film, an anthemic love letter to the Seventies, its name-checking of decades’ high- and low-lights a delight for nostalgic baby boomers. A song that she claims arose from wondering “What Would Taylor Swift Do?” was the buoyant and catchy “Here Tonight,” while yet another tune was inspired by a dream Williams had featuring Shawn Colvin (?!).
Williams told anecdotes about her overseas travels and her speaking engagements, often indulging in self-deprecating tales that provided the fodder for many of her best songs. As the subway rattled below the venue, Williams encored with her biggest hit to date, “Iowa,” encouraging a rousing-sing along with a chorus that got some of the staid crowd on its feet. Williams’ lovely vocals and deeply felt songs will endure, this show proving that her cohesive material spanning the last 25 years is as timeless and pure as her voice and intentions.