28 November 2012
Locally based folk chanteuse Gem Andrews with Nicky Rushton tickling the ivories opened the show with a delightful set, mostly made up of pared back versions of songs from her remarkable debut album SCATTER and her tear inducing Country-Noir song, Goldfish stole my heart and Gem’s take on Heart Like a Wheel was quite spellbinding, receiving rapturous and extended applause from the appreciative audience as it ended.
This was the first time in the ten years Tift Merritt has been visiting the Jumping Hot Club that the flame haired Tift Merritt had brought her band to Newcastle which that may accounted for the air of excitement in the Sold Out venue as the quartet opened their set with; well….I’m not altogether sure; it could have been Never Talk About It but the sound for the first three songs was especially muddy; with Tift’s soft, sweet voice got drowned out by the bass and drums; no matter how softly they tried to play.
Things picked up with Sweet Spot; from the latest album TRAVELLING ALONE, when Eric Heywood played a mighty mean pedal-steel to compliment the delightful Ms Merritt’s well thumbed cherry red Gibson on this sexy song.
With virtually no chit-chat between songs apart from “How are You?” and “Are you enjoying yourselves?” Tift failed to introduce any of the new songs which was a shame as the likes of Drifted Apart must have great stories behind them.
About halfway through, a bottle of water accidentally got knocked over on stage prompting the singer to swiftly whip the pretty piano cover off and mop up the puddle much to everyone’s amusement.
Even when electric instruments are involved on her albums, they are simply produced and all the better for it; as they emphasise the singers’ sparkling voice; but tonight the addition of electric guitar, bass and drums meant Tift’s voice got lost in the ensuing blanket of noise. Don’t get me wrong here; this was never in danger of becoming a Motorhead concert; just that no matter how softly they played Tift couldn’t compete with the rhythm section on far too many songs.
When she did sing solo or with an acoustic accompaniment the results were electrifying (sic) especially Good Hearted Man which had an understated backing from the band as Tift played the piano and sang her heart out. The noisy applause at the end reflected the difference in choice of instrumentation.
Eventually the sound engineer did find an acceptable level for the band and the last half hour was as good; if not better than I’ve heard Tift Merritt perform before – her solo piano recital of Another Country truly was remarkable and Eric Heywood came into his own again with his pedal-steel playing on Bramble Rose turning The Cluny into a little piece of Nashville for 5 minutes.
After the charade of leaving the stage and returning for their (planned) encores Tift suggested that ‘they try something new’ and after some shuffling they gathered around a single mic Tift and Eric strumming acoustic guitars and bassist Jay Brown providing harmonies the trio performed an Appalachian version of Plainest Thing which would have received a standing ovation if this had been a seated venue.
This was followed by an older acoustic song; That Thing That Everybody Does which I’ve not heard played live before; then Tift then introduced the band and announced that tonight was the last night of her tour and then cranked up the volume on In The Way until it was a very rocky affair with Tift hitting the piano keys until they hurt as the band looked like they were having a blast.
Then the curates egg of an evening ended with another song from the latest album; the maudlin Feeling of Beauty.
I’ve been a Tift Merritt fan for 10 years now and as I journeyed home was left with mixed feelings, as I’d certainly enjoyed parts of the show but couldn’t get over the thought that the singer isn’t at her best in front of a band.