Nanci Griffith – Tennessee Theatre (Knoxville, TN)
The closing show of a tour is always a dicey proposition. Depending on how well the tour’s gone and how tired and cranky the band is, you might get either a jubilant party or a hasty run-through from weary players anxious just to get home. Judging from the casual charm and good humor of Nanci Griffith and her Blue Moon Orchestra at their road-closer in Knoxville, the last eight or nine months had been a good time for all.
After opening with a crowd-pleasing run through John Prine’s “Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness”, Griffith announced the band had spent the last week on the road rediscovering songs from her back catalog “that we haven’t played for years.” This was good news, both because that’s one heck of back catalog and because her most recent album, Clock Without Hands, is rarely more than unremarkably pleasant. Griffith wisely picked just a handful of its best tunes — the title track, the Dickey Chapelle tribute “Pearl’s Eye View”, the Vietnam contemplation “Traveling Through This Part Of You” — and interspersed them with a peddler’s feast of old favorites. She reached all the way back to her 1977 debut for “There’s A Light Beyond These Woods” and played few songs more recent than 1994’s excellent Flyer.
The veteran Blue Moon players, including Griffith’s longtime songwriting partner James Hooker on keyboards, were amiably relaxed, adjusting easily as Griffith changed the set list on the fly. The entire show had a loose, whimsical feel, culminating in a set-closing sing-along to “If I Had A Hammer”, a nod to Griffith’s unapologetically folky roots. Whenever her earnestness threatened to turn the proceedings overly solemn (various songs were dedicated to the people of New York, war correspondents in Afghanistan, American veterans, and band members’ wives), Griffith’s unexpectedly tart sense of humor lightened things up. And the sole new song she performed, a chugging slab of Tex-Mex honky-tonk called “Last Train Home”, was encouragingly lively.