Anaïs Mitchell’s latest album YOUNG MAN IN AMERICA has been receiving great press on both sides of the Atlantic and I’m sure that it will be a shoo-in for many ‘best of year’ lists come December. Meanwhile, she’s touring it, with her ‘Young Man Band’ here in the UK and I was fortunate enough to catch them in Brighton on the second night of the tour.
Opening with Ships, the band, Noah Hahn on fretless bass, Ben Davis on percussion and Rachel Ries on keyboards, provided such sympathetic accompaniment and clearly delighted the crowd, most of whom had not seen her perform with a band before (aside from the acclaimed HADESTOWN shows). Mitchell solo is wonderful but the band took her songs to another dimension. A particular surprise was the new arrangement for Of A Friday Night from 2007’s THE BRIGHTNESS – hardly recognisable with drums and fretless bass dominating proceedings.
Sussex is dear to Mitchell’s heart as her first ever UK show in 2005 was in the county and she has, over the years since, performed regularly and has built up a great following here. This was so clearly evident from the response she received after asking for requests with people shouting for very early material - Before the Eyes of Storytelling Girls, Old Fashioned Hat as well as Come September from the COUNTRY EP she and Ries released in 2008. Unexpected as it was, the pair nevertheless took a few moments to decide how to play it and then proceeded to perform it following up with a full band version of O My Star! from the same EP.
Mitchell’s lyrics are sometimes political, sometimes personal, sometimes observational, sometimes unsettling but always intelligent; she is a young woman who deserves commercial success and I think that her latest album is perhaps her most accessible. For a good few years I have been saying that she is an acquired taste - I have always loved the juxtaposition between the child-like voice and the though-provoking lyrics but now I think that with her voice sounding more rounded than ever before she will have greater mainstream appeal.
A few vignettes from the evening – Mitchell blowing a kiss upon spotting Sharon Lewis (one of the Fates in her UK HADESTOWN shows) in the audience. Mitchell explaining that Shepherd is based on the first chapter of a book written by her father. Davis multi-tasking between drums, glockenspiel, banjo and guitar – whoever said that men couldn’t multi-task has obviously not met Davis!
For the final song of the night, the band satisfied an earlier request for Why We Build The Wall with Ries and Davis swapping instruments to drums and keyboards respectively. The blend of old and new material went down extremely well; no one wanted the evening to finish but all good things must come to an end. I enjoyed it so much that I’m pretty certain to attend the show at Dingwalls, London on June 12th. Hope to see you there? Jela Webb
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