An Illustrated Review of Bill Callahan & Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s “Blind Date Party”

Carl Antonowicz is a Texas-reared, Tulsa-based illustrator, performer, writer, director, cartoonist, and calligrapher. Support his work on Patreon!

Leave it to Will Oldham and Bill Callahan to take a look around as the pages of 2020 continue burning, one by one, and decide the best bet is to throw a country-wide party with all of their closest friends. Collecting all the various collaborative cover songs they sparked to life over the last 20 months, Blind Date Party is like a joyous Nero jamming away on that damn fiddle while everything around crumbles to nothing and leaves behind the most fertile of soils.

When the dark angel folds of “Blackness of the Night” fades in with Azita’s warm, saccharine synths drifting along plainly, there’s a feeling that we’re starting at the end of the story. Oldham and Callahan duet well past midnight, minstrels for the final hours before the last nuclear sunrise. In the end, we’re all left to wander the stripped wastelands endlessly, humming these sweet missives like a pack of roaming clowns.

Listening to Blind Date Party sends us on a haunted house tour where each room is hosting a different broken-down thrill ride. Oldham and Callahan are the tricky carnival barkers, traipsing through, slinging whiskey and wheat germ sundaes while Bill MacKay chimes in with a slipstream touch on “Deacon Blues” or Meg Baird manages to completely take control of “I’ve Been the One” without ever uttering a word. Friends next to friends next to friends.

Six Organs of Admittance continues on the deep future path The Veiled Sea set him on and transforms Palace classic “Arise, Therefore” into a dystopian outer space dancefloor protobanger. Callahan’s matter-of-fact delivery adds to the hellishness, sending everyone into seizures with the harshest strobe lights imaginable. It’s a dark-hued counterpoint to the funk splashes of the Ty Segall-helmed “Miracles.” This fucked-up, end-of-the-world villa has room for every flavor in the candy store.

Dialing back the cadence, gray matter leaking onto the pavement, a cascade builds into the central thesis of Blind Date Party. Joined principally by Cassie Berman, but really almost the entirety of Drag City’s roster, “The Wild Kindness” is everything and then some. As the chorus rises to find David Berman’s spirit wherever it resides in spiraling oak boughs or cotton candy clouds, the whole thing reaches a transcendent crescendo. Every word of this Silver Jews classic is a manifesto for refusing to let the hell that surrounds us win. Against every goddamn odd, with every goddamn sword at our collective throat, we press on. “I’m going to shine out in the wild kindness and hold the world to its word.” Say goodnight and lace ‘em up for tomorrow.

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