Natalie Merchant in Concert (Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pa., 7/11/2014)

Posted: July 12, 2014 in 2010s, 2014, Natalie Merchant
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Natalie_1

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the adjective “sublime” as “very beautiful or good : causing strong feelings of admiration or wonder.” That’s the concise summary, at least. The extended, third version explains it as thus: “tending to inspire awe usually because of elevated quality (as of beauty, nobility, or grandeur) or transcendent excellence.”

That was Natalie Merchant’s July 11, 2014, concert at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pa.

It started slow. A restive audience didn’t embrace the opening “Lulu,” a solid song from her new album that would have worked better deeper in the set, especially if coupled with context by way of a brief introduction. (It’s about Louise Brooks, the silent-era star who flamed out for reasons that had much to do with, to borrow a line from Neil Young’s “Crime in the City,” “giving the finger to the preacher” – or, in her case, the movie studio). It’s a mid-tempo story-song, in other words, that requires rapt attention – a near-impossibility when folks are still finding their seats. It’s also not the way to win over folks who, if those around us were any indication, bought their tickets based solely on yesterday’s glories. (I heard someone behind us say she was expecting an oldies/retrospective-type show. I’m sure she wasn’t alone.)

That’s not to say a known song was needed, just something that laid out the night’s itinerary in more dramatic fashion – something that grabs you by the proverbial lapels. First Aid Kit, for example, opened with “Shattered and Hollow,” a dirge-like number in which the narrator declares she’d “rather be broken than empty” and “moving than static.” And Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band kicked off their 2012 shows with the anthemic “We Take Care of Our Own,” which set the stage for all that followed.

The hypnotic “Giving Up Everything,” also from the new album, would have worked better in the lead-off spot, I think. It’s sparse yet powerful – a lead-off home run, to return to the baseball metaphor. It’s both a statement of purpose and, in its way, anthemic.

In any event, by “maggie and milly and molly and may” – Natalie’s mesmerizing take on the e.e. cummings poem (from her 2010 Leave Your Sleep project) – it didn’t much matter. I could see some folks still scratching their heads, confused by their lack of recognition of the song, but, by and large, the audience’s restlessness was fading into rapt attention.

Highlights abounded, including the usual suspects of “Life Is Sweet,” “Break My Heart,” “Wonder,” “These Are Days,” “Carnival” and “Kind & Generous,” which closed the show. Also: the sultry ode to femme fatales, “She-Devil” (from her 2005 Retrospective set); “River,” her heartfelt song about River Phoenix; and two off-the-cuff covers, “Always on My Mind” and “Super Trouper.” (Yes, Willie and Abba in the same set!) And “It’s a Coming” and “Ladybird” both rocked much harder than they do on album – “Ladybird,” especially. Guitarist Gabriel Gordon had a field day on that.

The only downside: the overzealous security personnel, who raced helter-skelter around the theater stopping folks from taking pictures and/or filming songs. It was far more of a nuisance than what, I presume, they were trying to stop – someone holding their phone up to snap a shot or record a video isn’t much of a bother, at least to me, but when a security guy races into a row to tap said someone on the shoulder, as they did more than once, it’s beyond distracting. At one point, during the encores – everyone’s on their feet, dancing (or, in my case, bopping about), a security guy slapped at a woman’s phone while she snapped a picture.

There are worse things in life than not being able to take a picture or record a song, of course. Blogging on blog.com, for instance. The site is slow, riddled with errors and… well, I’ve moved on to here, wordpress.com. (When I’m able, I’ll be transferring my oldgreycat.com domain to here. And springing for a nicer theme.)

Comments
  1. […] long-gone Philadelphia Spectrum, was in 1983; the last was this past Friday when Diane and I saw Natalie Merchant at the Keswick Theater in the Philly suburb of Glenside. In between I’ve been to more shows than I can count. I […]

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  2. […] Merchant’s Tigerlily, my No. 1 pick for 1995, has been in constant rotation since we saw her in concert in July. And I re-ripped my twin picks for 1985, Lone Justice’s self-titled debut and the Long […]

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