Energy and Intimacy
Erin McKeown describes herself as the 'Queen Of Quiet' on her latest cd but on stage at Liverpool's Neptune Theatre it was a different story. From striking her opening chords to having the crowd yell a raucous chorus of 'Oh Estelle!' on her last song she was engaging and energetic. She has an enormous presence, plays guitar like it's a part of her and, unlike some supporting acts, held the audience transfixed. Her rapport was instantaneous, asking them to fire questions at her and having them hum at crucial parts of 'Born To Hum'. I think as much as anything she took them by surprise, bopping round the stage and throwing herself into each song.
Her material was from her new 'Distillation' cd and elsewhere, including the one-woman rock'n'roll of 'Blackbirds', 'Fast As I Can' and 'La Petite Mort' which featured the spirited audience participation. She brought on drummer and double bass player to support a new song 'Low Slung' which ought to turn into a staple of an already strong set. Her voice, guitar and sheer exuberance filled the theatre and was the most joyful opening set, or any other type of set, I've heard in ages.
No one would call The Be Good Tanyas energetic and they did seem subdued after the stage-filling performance of Ms McKeown. Of course this is exactly what they do best, effortlessly generating low-key charm that gently holds the listener spellbound. Their relaxed, beguiling harmonies tumbled over the various guitars, banjos, mandolins and ukeleles. Watching Trish Klein summed it all up; she closed her eyes, plucked banjo, swayed and smiled, lost in the warm acoustics of their sound. Much of the audience probably felt the same. Sam Parton did most of the talking, telling tales about dogs and also striking up links with the crowd. Frazey Ford was probably the most low-key of the lot but she sang with that slightly blurry quality that is an integral, immediately identifiable ingredient of the band. Their combination of talents is near perfect.
As you might expect many of the songs were tinged with melancholy; 'Only In The Past', 'Waiting Around To Die', 'The Junkie Song', 'Dogsong' and 'In My Time Of Dying' lulled the aisles. More up-beat were 'Reuben' and 'The Littlest Birds' for which Erin McKeown joined them on banjo, her infectious enthusiasm being reciprocated by many of those in the hall. The set seemed over too soon leaving everyone wanting just a little more, as it should be.
And a venue like this was made for such artists, it's old and lived-in with seats that have been well worn. Despite being a 'theatre' it retains an intimacy and atmosphere that makes it feel more like a smaller venue allowing a closeness to develop between the stage and the seats. I'm sure that both the Tanyas and McKeown will be back in Liverpool, hopefully at The Neptune.
© 2003 Paul Donnelly