Amanda Shires Under The Party Lights
What did you do this weekend someone asked me. “Oh I went to Amanda Shires’ party.” It has a nice ring to it, no?
If her recent stop in Washington, D.C. hadn’t been called the Amanda Shires Album Release Party, my guess is that Gypsy Sally’s still would have been packed.
Instead of party favors to celebrate My Piece of Land, people used their own attentiveness anticipating every word. Standing by the stage, one could look out and read lips mouthing Shires words all around. It was a night so magical that “Wasted and Rollin’’” went from an enthusiastic crowd pleaser to become suddenly quiet. People dialed it down and were listening so intently (a forgotten art) you could have heard a pin drop.
The packed club meant she was part performer and bandleader and part party host. Shires was quick on her feet with playful banter and handled a few catcalls directed her way. When someone yelled out to her, Shires put her hand over her stomach saying “I’m a respectable woman and a mother now.”
Shires began what felt like a confessional when she talked about wondering what life would be like recording and touring with a new baby. She seemed about to reveal a secret when someone shouted “you can have it all.” “The point is it’s too poignant,” she said as if the hollering broke her train of thought. “Here’s to more songs” and went into “I Know What It’s Like” as if she was carrying on the conversation. It was late in the set when Shires sang a song penned about her one year-old, celebrating the joys of being a doting new mother.
The last time Shires stopped by the area, she was accompanied by friend and bassist Stephanie Dickinson. Now Shires, alternating between fiddle, electric guitar and mandolin, led a four-piece ensemble. When she stepped onstage the authority in her fiddle made the set’s opener “My Piece of Land” feel like a declaration.
The group had been in the van and on the road too long for Shires not to resist playful banter about her band mates. There was her guitarist’s sexy hair and her bassist’s birthday to talk about. During “Devastate,” they replicated the trippy alt-country sounds of Down Fell The Doves, a record that made me think of the Beatles’ Revolver as if it had been made in the south in a different century. During “When You’re Gone,” her guitarist struck a nod to R.E.M with a groove that swung and made the song feel like warm and familiar. Her understated guitar gave extra resonance to “Swimmer” as she whistled underneath the melody line.
Shires cast the merchandise table as the place to meet friends. She embellished the mythology of meeting a man by the name of Tiger Bill who brought her a mystical bag at a show in Tampa. Shires opened it to find Siberian tiger claws and whiskers and spun the tale of becoming bulletproof.
Perhaps armed with that confidence, Shires had a surprise at the end of the night. She revealed that her band has been learning a new song a day in the van. She asked for a vote and in the season of democracy, the majority was in favor.
She brought out Lilly Hyatt with a sheet of lyrics to the classic “Jolene.” Hiatt, who killed it with Margo Price at the Country Music Hall of Fame singing Lucinda Williams’ “I Lost It” a few weeks before, was game. The two gazed at each other as if they were out on karaoke night. She followed with a rousing “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” with her fiddle and band in full swing and her sweet, soft voice reciting the tall tale as if she was reading a bedtime story.
Earlier Hiatt struck a chord with the crowd. She seems a perfect touring companion for Shires who she calls a badass and her band a bunch of badass guys. With just an acoustic guitar, she played songs that were unencumbered by the production of her last album Royal Blue, including the song she says has the longest title ever, “Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick The Restaurant.”
Hiatt still rocked, pulling back from the mic, her hair dangling as she swayed during the solo for “People Really Don’t Change.” Given the year and a half since her last album, Hiatt brought with her a sort of angst that came through some new songs she’s written and tested. Hiatt revealed the trepidation about relationships, connection and sense of self in “There’s Something You Don’t Know About Me.” During the song she dropped a killer line about her favorite record Purple Rain came the same year she got her name.
Another was a sort of mid-life, taking stock song . In it Hiatt sang about life’s tests and faith in what she can’t see. In the end there’s resolution that it’s still “workin’ right for me.” Set against the back-drop of her self-described dicey Nashville neighborhood, it’s her piece of land.