(Soon to be replaced by better pictures I hope) New photo courtesy of Mark. More at his Picasa website.
Sometimes a great show lives up to your expectations and sometimes it exceeds them. I am very thankful that tonight’s Tift Merritt show falls into that rare, latter category. This post is probably going to get a little detailed, so I’ll provide the highlights here and post the rest below. This show made a few things very clear to me:
- Despite the solid band that backs her on both her albums, it’s her voice that powers her songs. This was the first time I saw Tift play solo. Her version of Good Hearted Man tonight was a case in point. On Tambourine her vocals rest on top of a lush arrangement with horns and some great backing vocals. She sang it while accompanying herself on the piano tonight. It lost nothing. Nothing. The crowd went wild over it. She seemed quite bashful when she received the response but it was well deserved.
- What made Bramble Rose great is back. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Tambourine. But I want to marry Bramble Rose. The songs carry more emotional weight and are they are consistently more intimate. The new songs that Tift played tonight hit those very notes after what must have been a very reflective period living in Paris. Another Country had the same ability to make your heart feel like it’s about to break when the emotional peak of the lyrics coincides with the hook on the refrain. The new compositions might be more mature, though. This emotional sweet spot was more understated in the new songs which gave them a greater resonance.
The Other Details
I should perhaps be more subtle with my note-taking at concerts. At one point during the show, Tift said something like, “There’s the critic in the back taking notes” from the stage with mock scorn. With no witty retort in hand, I gracefully flailed my arms in a crossing pattern trying to indicate that “No, I am not a critic but merely a nerdy fan taking notes for the set list he would later post on his informal blog of low readership.” Unconvinced that said hand waiving conveyed this message I decided to give Tift the url for Rattle My Cage after the show. Tift was very friendly and I left the show and our conversations with an autographed poster and the potential for the beginning of what I’m sure will be a large celebrity readership.
Anyway, the show was opened by the Rosewood Thieves who were quite good. Catchy yet sedate independent sound that borders on alt-country/Americana. Unfortunately my set list for them is mostly illegible, but I’d definitely go see them again. I stood next to the lead singer’s cousin during the set. Right.
Finally, I have Chris and Nina a big thank you for letting me know about the show. Without them, I would have missed one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. I also met Mark who was snapping pictures in the hopes that he would pass some along to be to include on Rattle My Cage. He was off to the Living Room and Rockwood Music Hall afterwards
so if these come in it will probably be tomorrow or later.
Okay, so rather than try to present this as a narrative I’m going to do it as an semi-annotated set list. A bunch of the songs were new, presumably off her new album, Another Country due out in February, so my titles might not be correct:
[Update: Corrections and additions courtesy of Chris P.]
- Something to Me
[I missed this one] – I think it might have been Morning is My Destination. My Heart is Free Can’t Keep from Tryin’Hopes too High – The Bramble Rose style melodies became apparent here. The narratives here seem more personal, though.
- Another Country – I’m listening to this on Tift’s myspace page right now and it reconfirms it’s instant emotional impact. While Tift was playing it, around the time of the third verse, a water bottle she had perched on the piano slipped off onto the keys with a loud piano crash. Needless to say this broke the mood instantly. She stopped and after a little bit of stage banter made the very wise choice to move the starting point back so that the song would peak after an appropriate build. The amazing thing was that when she restarted the song, she didn’t have to get into it again. She was just there. Some musicians have beautiful voices that they can turn on and off at will, but this was something different. It was as though the emotion in the song was always residing in her voice. When she sings there’s no other possibility than to have this feeling in it. I had to dry my eyes a little. Seriously.
- Supposed to Make You Happy – Tift stepped away from the microphone for this song. I wasn’t sure if it was because she was having some problems with the sound in her monitor or if it was her plan, but it was my ideal, like when Laura and her band played the Whiskey Makes You Sweeter than You Are at the show at Mo’ Pitkins a few years back. She and her guitar and harmonica were beautiful. You had to strain just the slightest bit to hear. It was perfect.
- At this point Tift mentioned that basically, the difference between playing in rock clubs and playing in book stores (the show was at Housing Works’s books store at 68 Prince Street with its proceeds going to support homeless men, women, and children living with HIV and AIDS) was that the reading you do before shows in rock clubs is on the walls. She then shared with us a selection of books she pulled off the stacks downstairs: The Truth About Modeling, The Trouble with Being Born, Marijuana, Beautiful Sinners of New York, The Music Lover’s Poetry Anthology.
- In This Land – I think I remember this quasi-protest song from the last time I saw Tift. Again, acapella with tambourine. Excellent.
- Virginia, No One Can Warn You – G D C D G, Capo on the 5th fret. Great version. Serious crowd response. And then Tiift singles me out for taking notes here. And says I’m writnig somethign like “She’s clumsy” because she kept knocking things over. Never, I say! She’s still the paragon of grace in my eyes.
- Keep You Happy (?) – Not to be confused with Supposed to Make You Happy – This one has my favorite country song writing device of the inversion in the last chorus which, in this case, becomes “keep me happy.” Another new one from Another Country I expect.
- Good Hearted Man – This was spectacular. As I noted above, this minimalist version lost none of the power and the crowd let her know it. It was a performance to remember.
- Mille Tendreses – I think. At least it was in French and the lyrics to this song on her website are also in French. Allan Light of WFUV who was the MC came on stage to thank us and Tift’s return to the stage seemed like legitimate encore and not the typical encore out of duty.
- Ain’t Looking Closely
- Morning is My Destination
As a post-script I’d like to mention that if you really love Tift’s music there are two compilations you should look into for her contributions. Her version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on the country-compilation A Very Special Acoustic Christmas is simply awesome. Also, “It’s the Shame” on Songs for Sixty-Five Roses (a disc of North Carolina artists covering other NC artists — I think — whose proceeds go to supporting systic fibrosis research — I know — has an incredible emotional impact.
I need to hyper-link a bunch of stuff in here, but I’m exhausted. Tomorrow most likely.