I'm a freelance writer who likes writing about cultural things (am a big film buff, bibliophile, and muso, who's obsessed with old films stars , Julie Delpy, Alfred Hitchcock, Coen Brothers, Kat...[more]
Dingwalls, Tuesday 12 June 2012
Mitchell really is one of the most exciting and formidable talents out there and it really is a wonder why this gig, the last on her tour, didn't sell out a while back. Still, Dingwalls is crowded with a combination of bearded, jumpered folkies as well as younger music-geeks (showing the power of Mitchell's music to span generational gaps), and it's nice to see such a great artist in such an intimate space.
Mitchell is supported by Rachel Ries, who is also in her Young Man Band tonight on backing vocals, keyboards, drums (specially learnt) and guitar, along with Ben Davis (drums, guitar, percussion, vocals) and Noah Han (bass) from New York band Cuddle Magic.. Ries is a charming singer from South Dakota who, despite admissions that she's feeling very nervous, gives an assured solo performance accompanying herself ably on a Hamer electric guitar.
She sings lovelorn songs and songs about leaving modern civilisation behind with a world-weary voice that really moves you. Mitchell joins her for a pretty song called 'Grace the Day' which they did on their Country EP and her voice works really well with Mitchell's more child-like voice, a good indicator for the rest of the gig.
The adorably small Anais Mitchell (I do have a soft spot for small women in music, being 5ft myself) comes on to perform two songs solo including the brilliant 'Wedding Song', which has everyone singing along and already seems like a classic.. It is immediatedly clear that Mitchell has a great rapport and warmth with the crowd, chatting and joking amiably between songs (encouraging the crowd by talking about an e-card she found that said 'Don't worry if you don't know the song, the 15 seconds you do know is coming up and you're gonna own that shit', and getting amused by two jokers who keep emphatically declaiming 'yes' at every opportunity: "So nice that you're promoting positivity"). She's clearly enjoying herself which is nice to see.
Ben Davis joins her on banjo for Shepherd and it is clear that Mitchell also has a great rapport with her bandmates, sharing happy glances with him as he plays. Davis' playing and singing also provides great and sensitive accompaniment, and he impresses throughout with his one man band skills; at different stages playing combinations of drums and guitar, and glockenspiel and drums simultaneously, although his earnest facial expressions and his habit of sticking his tongue occasionally amused and distracted. I'll certainly be finding out more about Cuddle Magic anyway.
The songs off Young Man... sound great throughout in the band's capable hands. In particular, the opening and title tracks 'Wilderland'/'Young Man in America', played back to back (highlighting how cohesive the album is), sound forceful and direct. Its lyrics about the cities being the new wilder land, and the story of a "ravenous" young man trying to find his way in a dangerous, "lonely world" really hit home with Mitchell's impassioned and energetic delivery, singing as if her life depended on it. And the audience delight in singing, with Mitchell's ever-ready encouragement, the 'ooh' wolf part. The beautifully poignant 'Dyin' Day' (about the sacrificial toils of daily labour) is another highlight, fully showcasing the band's skills with some great harmonising and banjo playing from Davis, as well as some nice finger-picking guitar work from Mitchell.
She only plays a handful of songs off other albums, such as the subtle and eloquent 'Cosmic American' (off Hymns for the Exiled) and the sublime 'Why We Build the Wall (Hadestown)', a great sing-along song (as well as a moving Mennonite hymn beautifully sung a capella with Ries and Davis), and yes, I would've liked more from Hadestown; but it attests to the power of the current songs that I'm not too disappointed by this.
The night ends with a sing-along of Lead Belly's 'Goodnight Irene' with Mitchell coming close to the audience, and trying to coax members into singing different verses (most of the audience unfortunately not knowing the lyrics). Mitchell says she "doesn't want the show to be over" and neither do I or anyone else here tonight. Her huge talent and warmth are truly unforgettable.