IT’S an unforgettable moment when a performer comes down from the stage into the audience and sings a song.
I saw David Bowie sing Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud from the stalls at Taunton, and now Gretchen Peters sing Love That Makes a Cup of Tea from the front row of St George’s in Bristol, both indelibly.
I have been fortunate to see the Nashville-based singer songwriter performing on several occasions in many venues – a Mexican restaurant in the Bay Area, a grand old theatre in Santa Barbara, a guitar shop in Santa Monica, the Cheese and Grain in Frome – but never singing better than at St George’s, a venue she clearly loves both for its splendid warm acoustic and its loyal and enthusiastic audience.
She’s in the UK to promote her new album Dancing with the Beast, the result of what she hoped would be a relaxing break that was shattered by the 2016 election result. There was no indication that the title of the new record is especially relevant, but Gretchen, one of the most intelligently political of the avalanche of disaffected performers, captures that new mixture of fear, anger, nostalgia and disbelief that has swept across America.
Her songs are dark, even for the country-Americana genre. They take small personal dramas and memories and make them universal. On the new album there are songs about urban decay, educationally challenged children, handsome boys on holiday visits, sex workers … and then the power of friendship, community and inclusive love.
At Bristol she delighted the sell-out audience with her classics, Idlewild, St Cloud, the extraordinarily evocative Matador, Five Minutes, as well as the new album, which is set to follow in her canon of must-listen-to music.
Her Bristol performance, accompanied by husband-arranger Barry Walsh, bassist Conor McCreanor and guitarist Colm McClean from Ireland and guest star Kim Richey, (who also opened the gig) was a concert that should go down in her personal hall of fame.