Anaïs Mitchell – Komedia (Brighton, UK – March 4th 2014)
Opening with Willie of Winsbury Anaïs Mitchell reminded us that she and Jefferson Hamer were the worthy winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for ‘Best Traditional Track’ just a couple of weeks ago – not that the Brighton audience needed any reminder as she’s been a Sussex favourite ever since playing her first UK date in the county back in 2005. The song is the lead track from their collaboration CHILD BALLADS; they adapted the traditional versions of songs, originally collected by Francis Child back in the 1800’s, drawing inspiration from interpretations by contemporary folk singers. Mitchell and Hamer were honoured to play it at the award ceremony, which took place at the Royal Albert Hall.
Tonight Mitchell was alone on stage, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. She performed songs from her latest solo release YOUNG MAN IN AMERICA but also delved back in time even giving us Cosmic American from 2004’s HYMNS FOR THE EXILED. At times she chatted amusingly between songs and at others segued one song into another –Shepherd, Wilderland and Young Man in America played in sequence were extremely effective.
Seven months ago Mitchell gave birth to daughter Ramona (she was asleep backstage under the watchful eye of father, Noah Hahn) and she talked about how having a baby had changed the meaning of lyrics with Shenandoah illustrating this beautifully. She wrote the song with two lovers in mind but now when she sings it, it resonates differently… ‘O, Shenandoah, cross the rolling water, O, Shenandoah, where’s your restless daughter?’… She also sang an unrecorded song, which might be titled When I Think About You, and although it was written long before she became a mother, her daughter whom she lovingly described as a ‘bad ass’ now ‘figures in it’.
Just about on the halfway mark Mitchell invited requests and was bombarded with suggestions! Old Fashioned Hat an autobiographical song (a firm favourite of mine) won out first followed by Shenandoah and then Flowers, Eurydice’s Song, which she said she never plays and might not remember all the words so ‘talk amongst yourselves’. There wasn’t much ‘talking amongst ourselves’ at all – Mitchell captured and held the attention of the audience throughout the 75-minute set.
Her ambitious folk opera HADESTOWN released in 2010 saw her win many new fans and five of tonight’s seventeen songs were from this album. In fact she finished off the show with an energetic version of Our Lady of the Underground. I gather that HADESTOWN is likely to become a full stage production and I’m sure that that will broaden her appeal even further.
Growing up, Mitchell was influenced by among others, folk-pop singer/songwriter Dar Williams and who should be playing in the neighbouring room tonight? Yes, Dar Williams! As a tribute Mitchell covered Williams’ Iowa, which she’d learnt to play whilst in high school.
I’m sure that there are youngsters out there who are in turn influenced by Mitchell – not a bad role model to have! She always showed great potential and it is wonderful to see a young girl blossom in to the artist she has become. When I first saw her years ago she looked like a punk rocker with bleached hair, dark roots and ripped tights but look at her now – all grown up with a baby daughter! She’s worked hard, writing, touring, recording and is so deserving of the recognition she is now receiving.
Photo Credit: Richard Webb, 2014