Review by: Caitlin White
Last night at the jazzy, history-infused Manhattan venue Joe’s Pub, Willis Earl Beal took the stage to perform his music with a live band for the first time. Performing mostly tracks from his new album Nobody knows., Earl was an electric and compelling presence onstage, punctuating his songs with mini-monologues and existential philosophy that probed far past stage banter.
As a musician who is completely self-taught and generally performs solo with only acoustic instruments, it was a welcome change to watch him focus purely on vocals and theatrics, leaning into the steady, buzz of a drummer, bassist and keyboardist who played with him last night.
Always one for the unconventional, Beal came onstage sipping on a whiskey and wearing a cape, and he even proceeded to pull out a paper bag with another whiskey bottle in it and begin drinking it onstage. He wore a cape with the imagery from his album on it and the word “nobody” across the bottom, even ducking under this cape to perform at some points. He grabbed a stool and climbed it, belting soulfully all the while, eventually chanting his lyrics while standing atop it.
I recently interviewed Willis and he chose to wear a mask throughout our conversation. So too, at the concert, he wore a small, black eye mask for the entire show. It wasn’t until the final song of the evening that he removed the mask, and assumed a deeper level of intimacy with the audience before departing the stage with little to no warning. Why does he perform this way? Nobody knows.