A Perfect Pair
After enjoying an extraordinary concert, it’s often tempting to call it the greatest performance one’s ever witnessed. There’s that feeling of afterglow that lingers awhile — maybe for even a week or two — before it slowly dissipates and thoughts come back into focus. It’s hard to say if that will be the case with the concert performed by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell this past Saturday night at Maryville, Tennessee’s magnificent Clayton Center for the Arts; but I’d willing to wager it will resonate for awhile, perhaps even forever.
For starters, the setting was magnificent. Clayton Center offers superb acoustics, and its location on the idyllic tree-covered campus of Maryville College couldn’t have been better. Having just relocated to the area less than three months ago, my wife and I found it a tremendous treat to see these two iconic individuals performing together in such a serene setting, a mere 15 minutes from our new home.
At one point Emmylou commented that Rodney could have been in Nashville that night for the premier of the Hank Williams biopic he scored, but he chose to be in Maryville instead. Crowell acknowledged the hometown crowd by gamely attempting the town’s correct pronunciation (“MUR-vuhl” as opposed to “Mary-ville”), and he almost got it right (as well he should, since his daughter was in attendance, presumably as part of the hometown crowd). But it mattered little how close he came. As soon as the duo walked out on stage, the sold-out crowd was smitten.
Still, if they felt they had to work especially hard to charm their audience, they couldn’t have picked better songs to get the set started. From the emphatic opening notes of “Just Want To See You So Bad,” through such archival classics as “Wheels,” “Poncho & Lefty,” “Ooh Las Vegas,” “Love Hurts” and “Till I Gain Control,” the show hit one resounding peak after another. (Truth be told, they could have reprised “Pancho & Lefty” the entire evening and many of us would have probably been satisfied.)
Still, there was a wealth of other great songs yet to come — selections culled from their individual catalogues (Harris’ Gram Parsons-penned “Grievous Angel,” along with “Luxury Liner” and “Red Dirt Girl,” Crowell’s “Ain’t Living Long Like This,” “Till I Gain Control”) and many songs shared between them, such as the title tracks of their two recent albums together (“Old Yellow Moon,” “The Travelling Kind”). There was also Crowell’s aforementioned compositions, which Harris claimed she first heard on cassette in 1974 and immediately fell in love with. She marvelled at the fact that it took them 38 years to record their first duet album, the Grammy-winning Old Yellow Moon, but also mentioned when it came time to do their second, the recently released The Traveling Kind, it took them barely a week to do it.
Still, 26 songs in just over two hours is a lot of ground to cover, but the fact they were able to mine so much material from careers spread well over four decade is a credit to both taste and tenacity. Credit also is due to their band, which includes Hot Band alumnus Steve Fishell on pedal steel, veteran bassist Byron House, who subbed at the last minute, and their tasteful guitarist Jedd Hughes.
The band swung, shuffled, rocked, and relaxed as the songs dictated, making the music seamless and absolutely transfixing. Whether swaying through a tender ballad like “”Back When We Were Beautiful” or lighting up a groove as on “Memphis,” they couldn’t have been tighter or more taut.
After the three-song encore, Harris brought her rescue dog to the stage and gave an impassioned talk about why folks should go to their local shelter to find a pet. “They’ll give your life such joy,” she promised, and as if to prove the point, she walked her four-legged companion to the edge of the stage and then across it, to give those in the first row a chance to pet the pup. It was a touching and remarkably human — and humane — way to end such a glorious program.
Then again, when two legends join forces, what other results would one expect? This show was brilliant, breathless, and beautiful.