Artist: Natalie Merchant
Date: May 25, 2010
Venue: The Lyric Theatre
City: Salford Lowry
Review by David Adair
To mark her first European tour since 2003 the former 10,000 Maniacs singer and songwriter, Natalie Merchant flanks herself with two plug-in acoustic guitarists and affords herself the luxury of an adept double bassist, from time to time. The most unique feature of evening is a slideshow at the back of the stage. It displays nonsense verse, quirky images and pictures of the mixture of well known and obscure British and American poets. Whose work she has spent six years researching and has adapted into a stirring 26 track new album, Leave Your Sleep.
Merchant’s infamous, slightly eccentric, endearingly quirky and moment grabbing stage presence still illuminates the set as much as the theatrical neon lights. Merchant and her guitarists are tight and focused as they run through material from the latest album. Each song is preceded by a brief, concise and authoritative biographical introduction on the artist in question and the significance of the piece being performed. Of course, Edward Lear needs no introduction, but was given a suitable and charming one anyway. Before the country and Celtic folk flavoured Calico Pie, is sung with flightiness and abandon. There’s a subtle forlornness attached to it, tonight. Making you take the song, original poet and tonight’s performer seriously.
A hollow string laden run through Arthur Macy’s Peppery Man, is underlined by the achingly sombre delivery, as a poignant moment falls upon the full venue. Various emotions and genres are explored jumbled together, then punctuated by a bracing narrative introduction. e.e. cummings’ charming maggie, millie, molly and may, possesses innocence and a serenity that defies the worldly and well travelled reputation of tonight’s heroine.
Native Names, adds another strand to the serious veil that covers the simplistic base and format of some of material on display. It cuttingly, yet stirringly covers the prickly topic of the perceived desecration of the Native American culture by modern American society.
An off-the-cuff strut and stroll through some of Merchant’s older and popular material, gives the encore some freshness, whereas the vitality is provided by the performers. Tell Yourself, is as gripping as ever and has a new wave twang to it this evening. Potent lyrics that lash out at society for the ills that it has caused, like anorexia, are playfully delivered.
Despite the fact that Natalie Merchant is now in the fourth decade of her music career, each tour is given the same energy and heart that most acts reserve only for their first tour. Also, each album is given the attention to detail, thought and injection of spirit as though it were a debut album.