Matraca Berg – Sage Gateshead (2012)

matraca berg

Matraca Berg

Sage Gateshead

5th November 2012

Tonight’s opening act Jenny Lindfors could easily have been beamed onto the stage directly from the early 1970’s, as she looked like a refugee from Laurel Canyon and sang like an angelic mix of Judee Sill, Carly Simon and Linda Ronstadt. For some unexplained reason the young Irish singer told us she wasn’t singing anything from her album, which was available in the foyer but instead singing newish songs. Of the ones she did sing, Don’t Tempt The Shadow was particularly pleasant as were her short and sweet intricate guitar solos that graced a few tunes.

Despite Matraca’s nervousness about advance ticket sales on various Social Media sites in the week leading up to the tour; there were still over 200 people in the downstairs area of Hall two; and those who did attend tonight saw a concert that will live in the memory for years to come from the three times Grammy nominated singer-songwriter who has more Top 10 Country hits in her locker than you can shake a stick at.
With Mah-tray-sah on vocals, David Henry on bass and Jason Goforth playing lap steel; all seated along the front of the stage, the evening began with the title track from Love’s Truck Stop and knowing nods and smiles were soon exchanged throughout the room.

For the next song; Her Name is Mary, the bass was swapped for a cello; and it added even more pathos to this extra-sad tale; making it feel like a soft punch to the stomach.

Normally I’m not an advocate of artists thrusting new albums on concert goers and baring in mind Matraca’s existing body of work this could easily have been a mistake of Royal proportions; but the new songs are so damn good and accessible it just seemed the correct thing to do tonight and the audience seemed to agree; judging from the rapturous applause each song received and smiling faces on the fans who appeared more than pleasantly surprised at the quality of each one.

Another new song; I Buried Your Love Alive was especially eerie with Goforth’s harmonica and Henry’s cello combining to take the backing into Southern Gothic territory and making a good song great.

The trio with Berg’s haunting vocals had me thinking of Hemingway and at times I black and white images flickering inside my head as the stories played out.

As well as the new album Matraca even shoe horned in an even newer as yet unrecorded song called How We Say Goodbye which she has written with a new talent called Angel Snow and the result is as good as anything she’s recorded before.

In an evening full of gems and surprises I fell in love with what I can only describe as the great lost Country song – Your Husband’s Cheatin’ on Us. This really is as Country as Country gets.

Eventually Matraca introduced another member of her ‘band’ – her husband and founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jeff Hanna, who joined in on an amazing version of You & Tequila and soon afterwards took the lead on Friend of the Devil, when Ms Berg knocked her water over and fled the stage to get something to mop it up with; but not before giving Jeff and the band instructions on what to sing and how to sing it! It’s at times like this that I love live music.

I really shouldn’t just list every song in the set but I have to mention Black Ribbons, as it was a co-write with Gretchen Peters and Suzy Boggus about the Gulf oil spill and the story that preceded it suddenly made the song take on another dimension.

During the opening chords of Strawberry Wine; which ended the set, a ripple of warm applause filtered around the hall as this was probably the first song most people actually recognised and the beautiful song about teenage love nearly got a standing ovation as the band left the stage.

Cries for an encore were answered with Matraca asking for requests; which might have been a mistake! Eventually she settled on The Resurrection which had the other three conferring as to what their roles were and what key it was to be played in, and as a regular concert attendee I actually found that quite refreshing.
With a score or more of song titles being called out the evening ended with a breathtaking version of Neil Young’s Old Man which did receive a standing ovation.

By the time I’d sorted my camera gear out and put my jacket on there was a queue of 50 or more waiting patiently to buy something at the Merch table from the charming Matraca Berg.