Denison Witmer & William Fitzsimmons @ 6th & I Synagogue, Washington DC - February 23, 2012.
We were fortunate indeed to have such an outstanding opener tonight, for as Denison Witmer explained, this was the last show he could do for a few weeks so he could spend some time with his wife and six-week old child. Yeah, I guess! But, then it's off to the west coast to pick up more shows with his friend, William Fitzsimmons (the heartland's loss).
Witmer does a stellar job tonight with just his acoustic guitar and voice. He mixes steady finger picked passages with gentle yet striking strumming moves to give his songs a flow and sense of drama. The third song was the opener off of his brand new album which I reviewed a few days back. The microphone went out right after the song was finished and Witmer lost no time in just unplugging his guitar and using the fine acoustics here to carry a Bob Marley tune he sang. The crowd hushed even more and it was a nice effect.
The sound crew righted things and Fitzsimmons' pedal steel player came out for a couple of songs. His additions were appropriate as he was clearly sympathetic to the delicate touch of Witmer and did not overwhelm the songs with brazen country twang. Witmer finished solo with some more of his thoughtful songs.
He looked at his phone and joked about the rudeness of that, but said he needs it as a watch as he had disturbingly bad luck with watches when he was young and stopped wearing them. Anybody else? Yes! I definitely connect with him now as I used to break watches all the time and have not worn one in over 35 years. But even if I did not connect with him that way, his songs were easy for me and the rest of the crowd to get in to.
Dennison Witmer has the songs and the performing ability to hold down any stage or in this case tonight, temple.
You cannot miss Fitzsimmons, even in a crowded synagogue. His shaven head and huge beard create a domineering presence, which makes his soft spoken approach to delicate folk songs all the more fascinating. There is almost an American Nick Drake delicacy, but he does not quite have Drake's edginess.
I would normally say that is good as it probably keeps his mental health in a better place, but he dashes that when he introduced a song about getting through his various mental health problems. And although he was doing the usual depressing song rotation, he was quite hilarious with his comments and even had a few positive numbers... "I apologize for in advance for the excessive positivity in the next song. I assure you the depressing songs will continue."
Fitzsimmons rotated between acoustic and electric and had a second acoustic guitarist along with the producer of his latest album who added steel guitar, electric guitar and banjo. The instruments stayed folky with only the slightest of rock touches toward the end.
Fitzsimmons joked some famous song intros including "Stairway to Heaven" and had the crowd cracking up when he actually did the beginning and first verse and chorus of "Sweet Home Alabama". He did that since his steel guitarist hates the song. He really had the crowd into it the whole way with his humor and strong, assured presentation of his songs. He did a three song encore including an acoustic trio version of "Heart of Gold" where they stood around one mic to give it a busking effect.
Great show by two outstanding talents tonight.
First published @ dcrocklive.blogspot.com.
Photo Credits: (1) Denison Witmer, (2) William Fitzsimmons (unknown).