Having spent over 15 years working on ‘Hadestown’ it seems strangely appropriate that Anais Mitchel should play in a church tonight. Truth be told the blessings are on the audience, as we are treated to a spellbinding evening of melody and quiet charm. Anais is touring on the back of her wonderful titular album, released earlier this year. It’s her first collection of completely original material in 10 years.
‘Hadestown’, became an all-consuming artistic venture that saw the musical garner many awards including 8 Tonys and a Grammy, but it is great to see her return to the stage. Anais begins with ‘Real World’, an ode to the simpler things in life, a time before iPhones got in the way of real communication, a time when facetime meant exactly that.
Many of the songs tonight are from the new album, a record that sees Anais trawl her memory for significant events, and reminiscences of friends and family. ‘Bright Star’ is a beautifully delivered romantic song, and it is so easy to be caught up in it’s insistent groove, and emotion. Played live, it is more muscular than on record, but every bit as intoxicating.
There are little motifs from her guitar player, which add that muscle throughout, but maintain that air of wonderment, almost whimsy at times.
‘The Wedding Song’, gives just a hint of the vibrancy and colour on offer from ‘Hadestown’. In the musical, it’s a duet between the doomed lovers Eurydice and Orpheus, with strange echoes of both climate change, and the current economic situation.
Anais teases the idea of a touring production coming to Ireland, and asks does anyone know of suitable venues for the play, which is replied to with a long list of theatres being shouted out with great enthusiasm, and not a little patronage.
The setting of the picturesque Pepper Canister Church is perfect, for her soft serene vocals, easy-strummed acoustic guitar, and that wonderful shading provided by the electric, and backed by a superb band of three. However, the eye is continually drawn to Anais, with her constant smile, occasional hand gestures lifting her hand off the guitar, and little nods of the head. It is clear, that she is reveling in the moment, and so is the crowd.
Anais refers to the middle section of the show, with herself and the guitarist playing without the rhythm section as folk songs, but they are so much more than that.
The singer apologies that she has no merchandise for sale at the gig, and blames Brexit. Brexit is also the reason for an early ferry in the morning to Liverpool. And it becomes a running joke as the source of all evil, including a misstep in the intro to a song. Anais tells the crowd most of her family is at the gig, including her mother, father, and one of her daughters, and invites the audience to ask her parents questions directly to them.
The touching ‘Little Big Girl’ is also dedicated to her mother and one of her daughters.
There is a real warmth, and intimacy to her delivery. Her lyrics are small-scale vignettes from her own life, but as with the best writers, these observations will resonate with us all.
The encore is Yeats’s wonderful ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’ set to music. By a magical happenstance, she relates that she came across a plaque dedicated to the great poet in the nearby Merrion Square. The whole gig had that feeling of serendipity and that joy of being in the moment. Few gigs affect in that manner. Perhaps it was the happy mood I was in and the company, and perhaps the pretty setting and the last of the glorious summer weather, but mostly, it was the spell cast by this wonderful artist and performer.
For Anais, having spent so much time in ‘Hadestown’, and her audience, tonight is simply heavenly.