Shawn Colvin’s Serenade
The night began with an entertaining set from opener Rachael Sage. The New York singer-songwriter served as a good warm up. Sage, who played both guitar and piano, accompanied by Kelly Halloran on violin, seemed relaxed and confident as she shared anecdotes between songs. Her material had a warm, slightly off-kilter charm that won the trust of the room.
After a short break, Colvin took to the stage to a very enthusiastic welcome. She then proceeded to perform the sort of magic that seasoned performers can summon, as she turned The Birchmere into her personal living room. She brought only one guitar with her, but it was all she needed. The room belonged to her exclusively, even before the first chord was struck, and she never relinquished her hold.
The set list was a good cross-section of Colvin’s career, and included new material that will be released on her upcoming sequel to 1994’s Cover Girl. The hits were scattered across the evening air, reminding the faithful that they were in the presence of a true painter of words, emotions, and melody. To hear her sing lines like, “You don’t have to drag me down, I descend,” is to hear an artist willing to labor in the harsh light of honesty. The untidy nature of relationships never sounded so pretty.
In between numbers, Colvin joked about her reputation for writing break up songs, saying that, “Chapin calls me the Taylor Swift of folk music.” This was followed by a fine rendition of “Polaroids,” that seemed to drive her point home. She followed the ballad with the comment, “You don’t come to see me to cheer up, my friends,” which brought a good laugh from the crowd.
“These Four Walls,” was preceded by a story about family gatherings and an awareness of the passing of time. Colvin’s emotive guitar playing served as a springboard for her stellar vocal work. The marriage between her lyrics and her delivery was inspiring to behold. In much the way that a great script paves the way for an actor to turn in a world class performance, while a poor script can make the best talents fumble painfully, Colvin’s words bolstered her unique pipes, which in turn repaid the material by uncovering layers of nuance a journeyman would miss by a mile.
Colvin was energized by the familial warmth of the room, and clearly fed off the intimacy of the moment. She illuminated the virtue of survival as if it were a sacrament, her voice, dancing on the words, careful, precise, empowered by restraint, as painful hush teetered on the precipice of howl, only to coil back in on itself and retreat into a strange mixture of defiance and fragility.
After a standing ovation Colvin returned with a three song encore that included a Tammy Wynette cover. The entire affair ended perfectly with her interpretation of the Dylan classic, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” There was a sense of hope and affirmation of the human experience hanging in the air, enough to feed a crowd of hungry souls. Maybe Spring, the season of rebirth, wasn’t flirting with us anymore. Anything could be possible.