Will Varley’s Sincerity Makes For An Engrossing Performance At Underground Arts REVIEW+PHOTOS: WILL VARLEY @ UNDERGROUND ARTS 3/11/18
PHILADELPHIA, PA- It’s no secret that the city of Philadelphia has a bit of a bad reputation. Despite its “brotherly love” moniker, stereotypes of its curmudgeonly denizens persist. But lately, there seems to be a shift in the air. Perhaps it’s that spring is burgeoning. Perhaps it’s related to a certain sporting event victory that had been a long time coming in the hard-scrabble city. But there is a sense of camaraderie, of togetherness, that has colored the city of late, making it easier for people to smile at each other on the street.
In a town known for notoriously hard-to-please audiences, where even Santa stands a chance of getting pelted by snowballs, the crowd waiting to see a group of visiting Brits, shanty punk favorites Skinny Lister and folk troubadour Will Varley, at Underground Arts. The chilly Sunday night was markedly upbeat, laying the groundwork for a few unexpected surprises when the musicians finally took the stage.
Varley, the tousled, grizzled poet, arrived with an acoustic guitar in one hand and a Pabst Blue Ribbon in the other, jovially bantering with people in the audience as he made his way to the microphone. Varley is a special kind of performer, one whose songs reflect a deep wellspring of thoughtfulness about myriad subjects, ranging from love to current events to the meaning of life. Despite this, however, his sets are not mournful or melancholy; they are beautiful, uplifting, and uproariously funny.
His sincerity and relaxed demeanor makes for an engrossing performance, even for a listener who has never heard him or his music before. Though he is touring in support of his new album, Spirit of Minnie, that night’s forty-five minute set did not include any songs from that release; rather, he stuck with fan favorites and old rarities. He abandoned singing the song “Weddings and Wars” halfway through, when he tried to crack a joke about a certain line in the song but realized just how many people had already heard it.
But while there was much appreciative laughter for Varley’s impromptu stand-up comedy act, the room was hushed and attentive while he was actually performing, spurring him to compliment them on it and giving him the opportunity to play quieter tracks that would usually be lost amid the background noise. He balanced solemn moments with those that were both amusing and celebratory, and walked off stage to a hearty and enthusiastic round of applause, having accomplished his task of warming up the crowd.