WASHINGTON, May 29, 2014 – Throughout his recent set at the Howard Theater, William Fitzsimmons was required to wear several different hats to define all the key points in his repertoire. This was obviously a symbolic statement, of course, but one with a bit of detached irony about it. That’s on of this artist’s most recognizable non-musical traits, especially when he’s on stage.
Under standard theatrical lighting, his shaved, bald head stands in stark contrast to his rather burly beard that launches immediately and unambiguously from his sideburns. This look has become somewhat common in recent years, but it’s one that Fitzsimmons wears proudly. It’s become his trademark, symbolizing his status as a quintessential singer/songwriter.
There are generally two camps of singer/songwriters in the entertainment universe today. Or at least that’s true about the artists identified as such.
One camp includes the straight acoustic artists. On stage, it’s just them, their guitar and the audience.
The second camp prefers to employ a full band, preferring to offer the full band experience to the audience when—as with the acoustics artists–it’s really still just one man directing the entire soundstage.
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William Fitzsimmons falls into this latter category. But like a number of others in this camp, he still tries to have his cake and eat it too, in the sense that he applies many of the first group’s approaches and techniques during his full-band style set.
Fitzsimmons never quite settles into one groove during his set, switching directions quite consistently. While his songs and sounds themselves never inherently keep the audience on its collective toes, his presentation certainly does. He never quite remains in one spot at any point, bouncing between a full band performance to a solo spot without missing a beat, while allowing the Howard Theater lighting to play a pivotal role in telegraphing each move.
Lighting, in fact, is especially important to Fitzsimmons, considering how often he changes the dynamic of his show during his time on stage. The lights are fairly subtle indicators as to how Fitzsimmons changes up the output of his sound during his set, though this may be just a happy coincidence and a byproduct of how he plays around with the contrasts in his music.
What makes him an effective singer/songwriter is the way Fitzsimmons easily deals with the introspective side of his life. Most of his songs intentionally point inward even when they deal with topics that don’t have anything to do with him directly. But when the full band joins him on stage, his songs take on a much more extroverted point of view.
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Of course, since this is William Fitzsimmons after all, everything is accomplished with the utmost subtlety. The pace of his songs regardless of being a solo act or a full band seem to be always meticulous and never up tempo or forced.
Throughout his performance here, Fitzsimmons was able to methodically embrace the emotions in his songs while relating them to the audience throughout the night. This is why he works so well with or without anyone on stage and why his presence remains such a constant.
At his core, this artist is a storyteller who employs every conceivable songwriting tool to convey his personal reality to everyone in his audience. It’s a rare gift, and Fitzsimmons has it.