William Fitzsimmons

support Denison Witmer
author MBC date 02/03/14 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

Sunday evening Lille Vega was the place to be for fans of melancholic folk-rock with two of America's finest; William Fitzsimmons and Denison Witmer. With the release of his new album “Lions” last month, Fitzsimmons is on a European tour right now with Witmer as his warm-up act, which brought them to the Copenhagen venue. For about a decade Fitzsimmons has been releasing great folk-rock records where he bares his soul and purges inner demons in incredibly personal songs. The show in Lille Vega was the first in Denmark in a couple of years, his third show in Denmark in total.

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Denison Witmer

At the 8 o’clock mark Denison Witmer entered the stage of a room not even half-full of people. I feel sorry for those who skipped the warm-up act to arrive later, since they missed a great performance. Witmer is a veteran and has been releasing albums since the late 90s, thus for a longer period of time than Fitzsimmons. Nevertheless, he is the warm-up act on this tour, a position which did not seem to bother him the slightest. Armed only with his voice and an acoustic guitar he stood on the stage for about 45 minutes and delivered one beautiful folk song after another. The crowd was surprisingly quiet during the performance, which was very positive and absolutely necessary in order to hear the details of his simple, yet sophisticated finger-picking and his soft, yet clear voice.

The tonal warmness of his guitar and the emotion in his bittersweet folk-rock songs resemble the song writing of the greats from the 70s such as James Taylor and Jackson Browne. Despite the melancholy atmosphere of his music, his presence on stage was relaxed and light-hearted. He told several funny stories including how he loved visiting Denmark compared to Germany, since the beer was much better here. He also commented on how mellow the atmosphere was at the venue saying that he might have to start selling pillow cases instead of t-shirts. At one point he even broke out into a William Fitzsimmons parody which was dead-on. He put on the big, hipster glasses and a long, fake beard, played a few chords and sang in Fitzsimmons’ characteristic soft, breathy voice. That was quite a spectacle, very surprising and funny. This was a great performance by Witmer who seemed really happy and almost surprised at how respectful and attentive the crowd had been.

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William Fitzsimmons

Following a break of some 15 minutes, the main event of the evening stepped on stage. The room was now considerably more filled with people although there was still plenty of room left. For people expecting to see an intimate concert with Fitzsimmons alone on stage, this must have been a disappointment since he entered the stage with a full band including drums, keyboards, guitar and bass. The band opened with “Centralia” from the new album “Lions”, which would prove to take up a lot the set tonight. The output on the microphone was turned way up, which is necessary at a William Fitzsimmons show due to his lack of vocal power. It demands something from the audience as well in that they have to be quiet to hear him properly. Luckily, much like at Denison Witmer’s performance earlier, people kept quiet for most of the time and clearly most had actually come to Lille Vega to listen to the music, which was amazing to see. During the show, members of the band came and left the stage in changes between full band songs and more stripped down acoustic songs. On those that featured the full band, it sounded more like an indie-rock ensemble, which was fun at times, but took away a lot of the personality of the songs and sometimes even drowned out Fitzsimmons' voice.

Fitzsimmons is an amazing and passionate song writer, but he does not exactly have the biggest rock voice, and thus the band constellation was not always a good idea, since it brought much attention to this. There were a still a few moments though, where the magic really shined through, for instance on “Bird of Winter Prey” which he played solo on acoustic guitar and on “Just Not Each Other”, where he had back-up from a second acoustic guitar. But unfortunately, these moments did not occur too often, and in general the band was featured a lot in various forms. We even got to experience a cover of Rihanna’s hit song “Umbrella”, which was superfluous at best.

As usual, Fitzsimmons showed a lot of humour and interacted with the audience in between the songs. He made an impression of Witmer’s impression of him which was really funny and showed that even though his songs often are gut-wrenchingly sad to listen to, he does not take himself too seriously. At one point, he told the crowd that he wished he had a crane with him, so that he could be hoisted up in the air and throw beard hair to people as gifts, which was a funny and quite disturbing image at the same time. He played six encores that consisted mostly of older songs and these were really among some of his best performances of the night. This included beautiful versions of “It’s Not True” and “If You Would Come Back Home” that he played solo, which is where he absolutely shines and has the ability to bring chills to his audience.

Unfortunately, tonight’s show was lacking of these magic moments, and in general it would have been nice to have had the band featured less. For his final encore, he jumped down from the stage onto the floor and positioned himself in the middle of a circle of people and played “Good Morning” without a microphone. In this moment, it became absolutely clear how frail his voice is and more than ever it was crucial for the audience to keep quiet in order to hear him. This was a fun and different approach to engaging with the audience, but did not feel like a strong end to an almost two-hour long show. Overall the show was good, but seemed a bit too long and would probably have benefited from being held in a more intimate setting, where more people would be able to sit down to enjoy the music.

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