“Gretchen Peters @ Liberty Hall, Dublin - 7th Sept 2018
In trying to review a concert from such a special talent, what was shared across the 90 minutes will always lead to thoughts of what was left untouched. The problem for Gretchen Peters is having a body of work that includes so many favourites and so little time! I guess it all comes down to the feeling that it’s not what you leave out, but more what you leave in…
What we do get is a beautifully balanced performance with superb musicianship from the talented band that comprises Barry Walsh (accordion, keyboards), Conor McCreanor (Electric & upright bass), Colm McClean (guitars) and Gretchen herself on acoustic guitar. The understated playing is so beautifully realised, always serving the song and adding just enough interplay to allow for the spaces between the notes. Also, the harmony vocals are very strong and augment a vocal performance from Gretchen that shows her voice to be in superb shape, singing from the heart in a honeyed tone that seduces and soars in all the right places...
The set tonight leans heavily towards the latest release, Dancing With The Beast and this is fully justified. It remains one of the best albums of 2018 and the current tour is in support of this release. Eight of the eleven album tracks are featured during the show with Truck Stop Angel, The Boy From Rye, Arguing With Ghosts and Disappearing Act all coming from very different places but connecting so poignantly; from surviving in a male dominated World to the loss of innocence and youth; ageing and Alzheimer’s - all the way through to taking the decision to disappear from it all.
Gretchen speaks of living with these new songs on tour over recent weeks and says that they have become a supporting band of sisters that accompany her on the road. The new album features songs about females in all different guises and situations, whether dealing with abuse or disillusionment or deciding to take action and control over their own circumstances.
Fragile, yet strong women, some from the margins of society – others the real backbone of middle America in grappling with the reality of trying to rear a family and try to scrape a decent living in a country that has turned mean and spiteful.
The references to Trump’s America are veiled behind the stories of the characters in these songs and the ability to endure and maintain dignity is captured with razor like precision in the poetic words of Gretchen as she holds a mirror up to daily constraints and compromise.
Say Grace is a key track tonight and the words, ‘the bible on the table says be of good cheer, but the tv in the corner is screaming you’re not welcome here’, resonate as an echo of the malaise within American society right now. Another key line is contained in the words to Lowlands with ‘but a man who lies just for the sake of lying, he will sell you kerosene and call it hope’.
Such a vital and honest writer and so much on the pulse of everything that is real.
She speaks of the division and suspicion that was instantly present after the General Election result and the caginess of people wondering which side others were now on… All reflected in the song, Lowlands.
The Blackbirds release from 2015 gets 2 songs included, with the title track itself and the excellent When All You Got Is A Hammer. There are a further 4 songs from the 2013 release Hello Cruel World and the audience greet Woman On The Wheel, Five Minutes, The Matador and Idlewildlike lost children returned to the fold.
Earlier in the set there is a Tom Russell song, Guadalupe, which was recorded on their co-release from 2009 and which Gretchen reckons is his most beautiful song. She talks about her coming to Ireland since 1997 (or so) and the fact that her visits are forever wrapped up in memory with the song, On A Bus To Saint Cloud, which she duly performs with a flawless melancholy that would melt the heart of the hardest cynic in the room.
The encore is another cover version, this time the Rodney Crowell song Ain’t Living Long Like This. It includes an extended band workout and a duel between Barry Walsh and Colm McClean as they trade licks and runs on their weapons of choice. At one point, Barry even plays the keyboard with his right foot!
With the audience giving a standing ovation and fully deserved lengthy applause, Gretchen returns and leaves the stage to stand in front of the crowd to sing Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea. A perfect message of comfort and fellowship upon which to end what was a fine evening of all that is good in live music these days. A masterclass from one of the true greats.
Review by Paul McGee Photography by Ronnie Norton”
- Paul McGee
“Lyric Theatre, BelfastSunday 9th September 2018
Lit by a single spotlight, Gretchen Peters picks a soft refrain as she sings the haunting ‘Arguing With Ghosts’. The song examines the ageing process and one’s own sense of mortality. It sets the scene for a night of impeccably played music, challenging ideas, and a little hope in these troubled times.
Gretchen Peters began her musical career writing hits for Patty Loveless, Bryan Adams, and Neil Diamond among others. Producing a number of fine country albums in her own name, her music over the course of the last few albums has seen her move from catchy love songs to more heady matters.
Belfast’s Lyric Theatre stage is dressed with the set for ‘Good Vibrations’, a play based on the life of local legend Terri Hooley. Initially the set of a run down city centre with shut shops and graffitied walls is a distraction but strangely, as songs emerge of troubled minds and a land divided by suspicion and racism, the backdrop actually makes sense in a way.
I get lost in my hometown since they tore the drive-in down.
Arguing With Ghosts
She tells us that she began to write the songs on the album on the night of the American election. But rather than angry songs of “Dump Trump”, these are much more considered pieces. She tells of the schisms and distrust that have continued to develop in her country since that night:
I come straight home from work and fix my supper. Don’t burn one with my neighbour anymore. Ever since he put that sticker on his bumper, I just turn out the lights and lock the doors.
The songs demand attention, as tales of young girls avenging their abused sister, depression, and unrequited love flow from the stage. Peters lets the songs speak for themselves before addressing the audience. She tells us the past few months she has been singing these songs about women, and it has been like touring with “a bunch of sisters”. Her band of three males look a bit sheepish at this point, but their time will come.
‘Blackbirds’ gets a call out for Ben Glover as co-writer. Ben has in fact become Gretchen’s partner in a number of compositions, including the gloriously brooding ‘Dancing With The Beast’ and ‘Truckstop Angel’.
Barry Walsh is Gretchen’s longtime musical and life partner. He helps move things along apace with little fills of keyboard and atmospheric stints on accordion, which helps give ‘The Matador’ its eerie feel.
Two other local men of note are rhythm section Conor McCreanor, and Colm McClean, who dazzles with several superb solos, never detracting from the vocal and the lyric, always inventive and fluid.
The pace changes up in volume and speed with an ode to veterans coming back to a world that has moved on without them in ‘When All You Got Is A Hammer’, and the wondrous ‘Woman On The Wall’, where the female protagonist asks us to confront our own failures and fears while watching her own death defying feats:
They say I’ve got a death wish, yeah, but I don’t think that’s true. As far as I can see, it’s less about me and more about you. You see it ain’t your fears so much as what your fears reveal. I’m just the woman on the wheel.
The majority of the set is comprised from her last three albums. The one major concession to her delightful back catalogue is the haunting ‘Bus To St. Cloud’.
The encore is rememberable for two different reasons. The first is a spirited rendition of Rodney Crowell tune, ‘Ain’t Living Long Like This’, which sees Walsh kick his stool backwards, and fly at the keyboard with gusto, which is met by equalling shining solos from the Fender of Colm McClean. This is pure musical theatre at its best, with Little Richard present in spirit in the shape of Barry Walsh.
The second reason is very special. Gretchen Peters makes her way to the edge of the stage and delivers a spine-tingling solo version of ‘Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea’. In the hands of someone less adept, such a tittle could be a hackneyed, over-sentimental country and western song.
In Gretchen’s voice, it is a thing of pure beauty, leaving the audience with some balm, comfort and hope, in a world full of obstacles. Her voice is soft and you wish she could have sang more songs like this. But which songs would you have given up to make way?
Real love does not build walls our make mighty noises about its power. Real love can do huge things and right wrongs. But love that lasts does the little things that help us all get to the next day with hope.
But there is love that makes a cup of tea, love that loves both who you are and who you want to be, love that waits for you when you fall behind. That’s the kind of love I hope you find.
A perfect message to send us home feeling better about all around us after a truly special night of music.
- Damian McNairney