Dan Wilson does something funny to my heart. At Wits on Friday, every song Wilson performed seemed more sentimental and familiar, ratcheting up the pop poignancy until the entire audience had no choice but to burst into song. During the closing number, which is traditionally the part of the evening when Wits producers post the lyrics of a song up on a screen so that everyone can successfully sing along, the crowd had little use for the posted words (or the instructions to only sing the chorus) and belted out every single word of “Closing Time.” As Jeremy Messersmith, who was singing back-up vocals, tweeted: “‘Closing Time’ singalong with @DanWilsonMusic and @munsongs at #wits is as close as I get to religious experience.” His songwriting just has that blissful, straight-to-the-upper-left-ventricle effect on people.
There were more than a few satisfying moments for Semisonic fans Friday, especially given the fact that Wits’ bandleader just happens to be Wilson’s Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare bandmate, John Munson. The two performed a sweet duet of “Singing In My Sleep,” then brought out Chan Poling of the Suburbs and vibraphonist Steve Roehm (who, coincidentally, are Munson’s mates in another band, The New Standards) for a rendition of Wilson’s solo number “Free Life” that was almost supernaturally beautiful.
But first, there was new song “Love Without Fear,” which Wilson said will appear on an upcoming solo record. Lyrically, it’s classic Dan Wilson: Told from the first person to an invisible “you,” just specific enough to feel personal but vague enough to be universally relatable. As for the melody, well one only needs to watch Wilson coming up with jingles on the fly in the video below to understand his innate ability to craft earworms. At Wits, Wilson performed the song with Munson, Joe Savage on pedal steel, and Messersmith, Brian Tighe, and Janey Winterbauer on backing vocals — an arrangement that would sound just as sweet on record.
Listen to the new track here:
I’d be remiss to skip past the other main act of the evening, Fred Willard, though I think you’ll get a better sense of his improvisational humor by listening to the whole episode of Wits, which is streaming here. Willard came across as incredibly kind and charming, and had an especially hilarious exchange with Wilson during a game called “Commercial Showdown Throwdown.”