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Monday, 24 May 2010

Gigs - Natalie Merchant - The Lowry, Salford

Star rating 8/10

First a bit of a confession – I adore Natalie Merchant. I’m not sure just how many times I have seen her live now but suffice it to say that for me she has the voice of an angel and she could sing the phone book and I would fall under her spell. So I need to try to be objective about my review here.

This tour, her first in the UK for seven years, is to promote her new epic album ‘Leave Your Sleep’, which is the culmination of a six year project to set children’s poetry from British and American poets of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to music. And the first chunk of the show (over one and a quarter hours of it) are devoted to performances of some of the poems and a bit of a back story with slide show from Natalie about the writers and their lives. (Be warned she comes on stage at 8pm and stays on for 2 and a quarter hours so don’t arrive late to miss the support act!)There are interesting tales of bigamists and pioneers, of soldiers and businessmen, who were all poets on the sly. Many of them did not actually get their works published in their lifetime – so this has been an obvious labour of love by Ms Merchant.

And some of the songs are lovely, undoubtedly. Many are very dark and bleak – surprisingly so for children’s verses. I have to admit that maybe half an hour of them would have been enough for me. But this is Natalie so I will let her off almost anything.

When she did get to the older songs from her back catalogue she enchanted as ever with her warm and powerful voice, telling tales of sorry, joy, and injustice. She performed songs from Tiger Lily, Ophelia and Motherland – all fabulous albums. She performed her tribute to the late River Phoenix, ‘River’, which is haunting in its sadness. Her version of ‘Motherland’ was tonight peppered with a few references to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the behaviour of BP. ‘Tell Yourself’ raged against the beauty industry brainwashing young girls into feeling dissatisfied with their appearance. Always angry, always fighting for justice, and just a little bit barking mad. And we rightly love her for it.

Her beautiful voice was as usual accompanied by strange and mesmerising dancing and gesticulations on stage. A couple of uplifting moments came in the form of ‘Life is Sweet’, and a grateful finale of ‘Kind and Generous’ - the crowd were grateful for another fabulous performance, and Natalie was grateful to them back. Bit of a love in really. But I did warn you. Just hope she doesn't leave it another seven years before coming back.

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