Anaïs Mitchell at Union Chapel (Islington, London, UK – Nov. 25, 2014)
One of the most enjoyable aspects of going to listen to live music is discovering an artist in the early stages of their career and seeing them develop over a period of time. I first saw Anaïs Mitchell perform just one song at a house concert in Austin, TX quite some years ago and was immediately taken with her individual style and presence in front of an audience. If I recall correctly, she wasn’t scheduled to appear but was invited to do so by the other musicians who were on the bill. And, she was just captivating!
Since that time, I’ve never missed seeing her when she’s toured in the UK, and have also seen her during subsequent visits to America. I’ve seen her perform at intimate house concerts, small venues where the proximity between performer and artist is extremely close, medium-sized venues and, tonight, in the Union Chapel, whose full capacity runs into the hundreds.
Mitchell has always been a fine lyricist whose songs paint pictures in your mind. Drawing upon influences from time spent in the Middle East, reworking the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice for her folk opera Hadestown, and reinterpreting the Child ballads, she has fulfilled that early promise in no small measure.
Appearing solo, with just an acoustic guitar for accompaniment, Mitchell managed to fill the Chapel with warmth and intimacy. From opening with the award-winning “Willie Of Winsbury” to closing by duetting with Kate Stables (the opening act) on the 16th century “Coventry Carol”, Mitchell enchanted her audience throughout.
Drawing from all her albums, she also gave a taster of what is to come by performing “Any Way You Come” which, as an R&B number, is something of a departure in style for her. She intimated that she’d sent it to Bonnie Raitt in the hope that she might record it, which would enable Mitchell to put her daughter, 15-month-old Ramona, through college!
Inviting requests, she was inundated and chose a couple from 2012’s Young Man in America “Tailor” and “Venus”. The loudest applause greeted the songs from Hadestown. Her previous appearance at this venue was the ensemble performance of that album and we were delighted to learn that a stage production is a very real possibility. She’s been writing additional songs for that, including “Any Way the Wind Blows”, the lead track from her newest album xoa.
So, in the past decade, Mitchell has proved herself to be an engaging, if somewhat quirky, performer. Her individual style, her unusual phrasing, and wonderfully evocative storytelling, just serve to show that she is a special talent. I look forward, with much anticipation, to the next phase of her career.