Shawn Colvin in Berkeley
A ripple of applause ran through the room as Shawn Colvin began her song “Polaroids,” three songs into the first of her two sold-out nights at The Freight :
Please no more therapy
mother take care of me
piece me together
with a needle and thread…
“It’s good to have my own audience,” the Grammy-winning songwriter’s songwriter sighed after completing the number to another round of cheers. Fresh off a two-month stint opening for Don Henley, Colvin’s comment to her Berkeley concert-goers was a reminder that a troubadour’s work may never be done.
She was playing to a full house of rapt listeners — many who had traveled long distances to attend. Colvin has steadily built a loyal following over more than 25 years of relentless playing, touring, writing, and recording, and it was jarring for long-time fans to be reminded that not everyone has her lyrics — such as 1992’s “Polaroids” — burned into their memory.
Close-to-the-bone and bare-souled writing is Colvin’s stock in trade, and she took the stage with nary an introduction, and nothing but her guitar, open heart and high standards in tow. Having just released a 12-song collection of covers of songs by Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and Crowded House (Uncovered) her set struck a balance between material written by others and gems from her extensive catalog of originals. Opening with a 1-2 punch of “Private Universe” by Crowded House, and “I Used to Be King,” Colvin’s choice of covers became a piece with her own compositions. She sandwiched Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” between her near-classic “Shotgun Down the Avalanche” from 1989’s Steady On. “These Four Walls,” from 2001, displayed the same combination of vulnerability and control.
“I write breakup songs, that’s what I do,” Colvin observed before launching into what “Steve Earle said is the ultimate breakup song,” “Sunny Came Home.” (She also mentioned she’ll return to the studio with Earle in December to record an album of duets, breakup songs, and others yet to be determined.)
Colvin’s opener, the delightful Lucy Wainwright Roche, started the evening with an equally confessional set of a half-dozen songs and liberal doses of humor.
Taking “questions and comments” from the audience, she managed to completely win over a crowd that “wasn’t really expecting me.” She peppered the set with stories about her quirky (and very accomplished) musical family, driving around the country solo, and recording dark lullabies with her sister. The gem was, of course, her lovely and clear singing voice.