Nanci Griffith at Sage Gateshead (2012)

Nanci Griffith
Sage Gateshead
Thursday 22nd March 2012

Alan Harrison

Opening act, the Kennedys, had a nice line in Country-folk with a quaintly English edge to it and songs like When I goand The Midnight Ghost, which was based on a Kerouac novel, won them plenty of new fans; as was witnessed by the long queue buying up their CD’s at the intermission.

The husband and wife duo added a nice touch to the finale of their set, which was the Monkees hit, Daydream Believerand a tribute to singer Davy Jones, who had died earlier in the tour. They surprised the Sage crowd when Nanci Griffith joined them for a chorus or two and some delicious harmonies.

With a stage set that looked like a Victorian parlour, Nanci looked as happy as I’ve seen her on a stage in several years, sitting between drummer Pat McInerney and support act the Kennedys, who were supplying harmonies and guitar interludes.

The evening began with an almost perfect rendition of the Speed of the Sound of Loneliness and, as the applause slowly died down, Nanci introduced Simple Lifeby dedicating it to Mothers everywhere. Her own mother had died only a few days after she had finished writing it with Elizabeth Cook, who she talked about as being the new Loretta Lynn.

Most of the songs during a Nanci Griffith concert are prefaced with anecdotes like that one and a few can also be a bit risqué with the Grand Dame of American Folk music now coming across as the cigarette-smoking and gin-drinking Aunt with all of the family secrets and anecdotes that your Mother doesn’t want you to hear.

Although she had been feeling poorly earlier in the week which necessitated canceling two concerts, tonight there was an enchanting warmth to Nanci’s voice and a twinkle in her eye as she sang the powerful ballad Bethlehem Steel about the decline in traditional American (and British) industries and The Loving Kindabout an interracial marriage that was a turning point in the fight for American Civil Rights.

Her latest album INTERSECTION is by far her best in years, but the loudest applause was obviously kept for old favouritesFlyer, On The Radio and possibly the finest American folk song ever, From A Distance,which was slightly slower than normal but still received a standing ovation from a euphoric audience.

Although the concert was slightly shorter than I’d hoped, the encores will live with me forever.

With the addition of the camp dancing troupe, the Clap Boys, Nanci pumped out her latest anti-capitalist anthem Hell No! (I’m Not Alright) with as much passion as she could muster and punched the air on every chorus then followed that with a crystal clear, totally unaccompanied version of The Road to Aberdeenwhich left me choked and with a tear in my eye.

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