Here’s something you might not guess about a guy whose music is so depressing -- William Fitzsimmons can be remarkably funny and engaging in the right venue. Fortunately, the main level of the 6th & I Synagogue is the perfect backdrop for him, and his performance on Feb. 27th in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd showcased a mixture of old and new songs with his observations about immediate surroundings and life in general. The balcony was closed for this show, which lent an intimate feel to Fitzsimmons’ personalized brand of songwriting.
As in his two previous shows at Jammin’ Java last fall, Fitzsimmons balanced the overall desolate nature of his lyrics with surprising humor, commenting on everything from the “creepy” new sippy tumblers offered by 6th & I for their beer-drinking patrons, to the overall impact his huge beard has on his daily life. While an occasional glimmer of hope came from selections from 2011’s Gold in the Shadow (and Fitzsimmons even apologized prior to playing anything upbeat), the interspersed dialog rescues his shows from sinking under a barrage of songs that describe loss, splitting up, breaking apart, and more loss.
Fitzsimmons delivered most songs in a motionless trance, then transitioned immediately after each final note into conversations with the crowd, before freezing in place again to start the next version of loss, loss, and loss. The set list contained equal parts of his four primary albums, which all have a certain sameness about them; if you like one of Fitzsimmons’ albums, chances are you’ll like them all. While his voice, which is somewhere between Samuel Beam and Jeff Tweedy, carried beautifully in the venue, the lyrics were plagued throughout much of the show by an indecipherability problem; it was hard to diagnose if the issue was bad miking, or if Fitzsimmons’ enunciation caused the issue, but luckily the beauty of the songs themselves made up for any lack of clarity.
The only real hiccup of the night was an out-of-place and overbearing drum kit track played over “Please Don’t Go,” from 2006’s Goodnight LP, but the audience was rewarded for their patience by a perfectly lovely version of the Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” complete with banjo. While Fitzsimmons’ song-writing is solid, heart-breaking and authentic, it is hard to envision him in a larger space such as 9:30; the connection he has with his audience would likely suffer in a larger venue, and that would truly be a loss.