Mary Gauthier at Live Theatre, Newcastle
October 14 2012
Although Mary Gauthier is now officially a ‘Friend of the Jumping Hot Club;’ who were the promoters tonight; she hasn’t visited Newcastle in a couple of years and in that time her star has certainly been in the ascendancy, which would explain why tonight’s concert was sold out many days in advance.
Without any introduction from the resident MC, Mary strolled out of the shadows dressed from head to toe in denim, with her guitar ready for use and sporting a shy smile.
After the first four songs it dawned on me that she was actually nervous; which possibly explained the lack of repartee she is famous for and the names of the first few songs; which is a problem for someone like me who isn’t aux fait with all of her back catalogue.
Thankfully I recognised The Rocket from the opening couple of bars and I have to say; her version tonight was even better than on the LIVE AT BLUE ROCK album she was promoting on a whistle-stop tour.
This was followed by the beautifully brittle Your Sister Cried which fair took my breath away.
The main hall in the Live Theatre is a wonderful venue with great acoustics and normally lends itself to a friendly atmosphere, but tonight’s audience seemed very reverential, listening to every song in intense silence – but giving very loud and generous applause as each song ended. Perhaps this explained Mary’s nervousness; or perhaps I’m reading too much into it all.
By the time the native of Baton Rouge got to introduce Christmas in Paradise she was visibly more relaxed and this came across in her guitar playing too; which is deceptively intricate and understated.
As the night flew by the stories that led into the songs became longer, funnier and more intimate with the story behind Karla Fey being a good example, as it was longer than the song!
Most, but not all of the songs on LIVE AT BLUE ROCK got an airing with Our Lady of the Shooting Stars being another song that has to be heard ‘live’ to get all of the nuances and inflections that get missed in a recording studio.
As I said earlier; I’m a latecomer to Ms Gauthier’s work so hearing her tell the tale of reading ‘ Steam train’ Maury’s obituary in the New York Times and subsequently writing a song in his honour – Last of the Hobo Kings now makes complete sense.
After about an hour or so, Mary took a swig of tea and suggested ‘now might be a good time to sing a happy song.’ She sighed and smiled before telling us, “Sadly I’ve never written one; so it’s more of the same, I’m afraid.” This got the first and only laugh of the night.
The opening act and sometime co-writer; Ben Glover from Northern Ireland joined her for the last few songs and; I have to say, his harmonies and guitar playing certainly enhanced Mary’s songs and raised them to a new level that I didn’t think possible; with Fred Eaglesmith’s Cigarette Machine taking on a whole new life with the aid of Glover’s dulcet tones; which is saying something when you know the song’s history.
Of what you’d expect to be Mary Gauthier’s so called ‘signature tunes’ only Mercy Me made an appearance with Glover taking a couple of verses and it was probably the highlight of an excellent evening in the company of one of America’s finest (if underrated) songwriters.