It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…but, thankfully, it was more the former than the latter at World Party’s performance at the Jewish Mother.
The band’s appearance in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia was a relatively last-second addition to their tour itinerary, and there were concerns that the audience would be virtually nonexistent, but, thankfully, World Party fans are a dedicated bunch, and when news leaked out that they’d be in town, word spread. It still was in no way a sold-out crowd, but the folks in the house were a rowdy, enthusiastic bunch.
World Party were ostensibly there to promote the belated US release of their 2000 album, Dumbing Up (now available in the States, and with a DVD of all the band’s videos included to inspire fans to re-purchase it), but the set weighed far more heavily on the rest of the group’s discography…minus, oddly, their breakthrough record, Private Revolution. Karl Wallinger, the singer/songwriter frontman of the band, was joined onstage by John Turnbull (bass) and David Duffy (fiddle and mandolin), animated and downright jovial as the trio opened with “Put the Message in the Box,” from Goodbye Jumbo. It was somewhat surprising to find the group playing acoustically, given how large a part tight production plays in the World Party sound, but the performance was gorgeous, with Turnbull and Duffy providing fabulous harmonies. It was the beginning of a virtual greatest-hits set, as they soon dived into “Is It Like Today,” from Bang!, “When The Rainbow Comes” (Goodbye Jumbo again), and “Give It All Away” (Bang! again).
The first new song, “I Thought You Were a Spy,” was one Wallinger introduced as being “one of the few songs I’ve ever written on the road.” It’s one of the new tracks that’s been added to the Dumbing Up reissue, along with “’Til I Got You,” which was performed a few minutes later. Between the two, however, the band slipped in a sublime rendition of “She’s the One,” which proved to be a substantial UK hit for Robbie Williams (even if his version was pretty much a karaoke take on the original), followed by Wallinger’s brief attempt to sing Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” After the first verse, he said, “That’s enough,” but an audience member pleaded for more; Wallinger replied by indicating that, although he loved the song, his brief performance of it had pretty well just proven why he shouldn’t continue. (Nonetheless, he tried it again a few minutes later.)
The show continued to explore past albums, touching on Egyptology with “Vanity Fair,” then paying two more visits to Goodbye Jumbo with “Sweet Soul Dream” and “Is It Too Late.” It was when he made it into a Jumbo trifecta, however, that the tide turned. At the end of a wonderful “Way Down Now,” Wallinger said, “Thanks a lot, good night!” There’d only been eleven songs, so, as tradition dictates, the audience presumed an encore was in the works – particularly since they hadn’t yet played their most recognizable hit, “Ship of Fools” – and continued to clap, cheer, and generally whoop it up…but the band didn’t re-emerge. As the fans’ hands started to get sore, the club announcer said, “Calm down, guys; the band are coming back for a second set.”
Except they didn’t. And the club didn’t make an announcement that they weren’t. The information simply worked its way through the club gradually, when Turnbull returned for his bass and revealed that Wallinger had felt that he was coming down with a case of laryngitis and decided it was in his throat’s best interest to call it quits.
It’s a shame that Wallinger couldn’t reveal that to the crowd before leaving or, if the decision was made after the announcement, come back to offer personal apologies – who’s going to be more forgiving than a house full of your diehard fans? – but it’s ridiculous that the club decided to just not say anything about it at all and let the crowd figure it out for themselves. Fortunately, Wallinger was willing to hold court outside his tour bus and was all apologies. He signed autographs, posed for pictures, and, according to eyewitness reports (this writer, regrettably, had to leave after getting his CD cover signed) performed a few songs – “Ship of Fools,” “Love Street,” and “I Fell Back Alone” – at a lessened volume, so as not to cause his voice any further damage.
Though the evening ended in an unnecessarily abrupt and, admittedly, slightly anticlimactic fashion, it’s still hard to say it was anything other than a fine evening of music. But next time, Karl, you bring that missing second set and we’ll provide the hot tea to keep your throat in proper working order.