Natalie Merchant at the O'Shaughnessy, 7/24/10

Natalie Merchant
July 24, 2010
The O'Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University
By Stacy Schwartz

To repeat a cliche, I could listen to her sing the phone book. That voice! I've been a fan of Natalie Merchant since my high school creative writing instructor played "Jack Kerouac" in class, and was thrilled to hear she was going to be performing somewhere as intimate as St. Kate's O'Shaughnessy Auditorium. Merchant's definitely had her ups and downs, but regardless of whether your fandom translated to her solo career after she left 10,000 Maniacs, there is no doubt she packs some powerful pipes.

The largest portion of her performance was devoted to her new album Leave Your Sleep, which takes poetry from both American and English poets and sets it to music. The arrangements are lush, beautiful orchestrations ranging from gypsy swing to sultry Latin to circus tunes. Accompanied by a seven-piece cast of musicians, Merchant literally twirled around the stage, letting the music guide her.

Natalie Merchant at the O'Shaughnessy, 7/24/10
Natalie Merchant at the O'Shaughnessy, 7/24/10
Natalie Merchant at the O'Shaughnessy, 7/24/10
Photos by Stacy Schwartz

Before each song began, Merchant would educate the audience on who the poet was, and perhaps indulge a bit of whimsical narrative as to why she choose that particular piece. While that was interesting and helpful, it at times seemed like I was in a strange college classroom where the professor was trying too hard to "have fun in class." It was to the point where we watched large projections via powerpoint slideshow while the songs were being played. However, this wasn't all negative. In fact, at times it provided a nice picture of who the author was and how they fit in with the rest of the album. Throughout the performance Merchant was sweet, funny, and kind, reading aloud silly poems of Edward Lear while the projections floated above, bantering with the crowd or her band, or even swinging around a Chinese lantern to illustrate the song "The King of China's Daughter."

The encores were where the crowd finally came alive as Merchant broke out songs from her successful solo career, such as "Wonder" and "Life is Sweet." One 10,000 Maniacs song also finally worked its way into the set with "Don't Talk," in which Merchant attempted to recount exactly how long it had been since she started performing that song (it was in 1986, by the way). For her very last song she brought on stage the amazingly talented local Jevetta Steele, who sang "Kind & Generous" with Merchant. It was a fitting, upbeat and beautiful way to end the show. --Stacy Schwartz

Natalie Merchant at the O'Shaughnessy, 7/24/10
Natalie Merchant at the O'Shaughnessy, 7/24/10
Natalie Merchant at the O'Shaughnessy, 7/24/10
Photos by Stacy Schwartz

Personal Bias: None, really
The crowd: Well dressed 30- to 50-somethings with a smattering of 20-somethings
Overheard in the crowd: It was a theater, it was dark, I was in the back row... you could hear a pin drop with the exception of the girl who screamed "I love you Natalie" twice.
Random notebook dump: Merchant said that she decided her daughter should go to St. Kate's after riding her bicycle around campus all day.  It "seems safe and has that [good vibe]."

Set List:
The Sleepy Giant | Charles E. Carryl (1841-1920)
The Man In The Wilderness | Mother Goose
The King Of China's Daughter | (Anonymous)
Spring & Fall: to a young child | Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
Maggie And Millie And Molly And May | E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)
The Peppery Man | Arthur Macy (1842-1904)
The Janitor's Boy | Nathalia Crane (1913-1998)
Bleezer's Ice Cream | Jack Prelutsky (1940-)
Adventures Of Isabel | Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
Calico Pie | Edward Lear (1812-1888)
If No One Marries Me | Laurence Alma-Tadema (1865-1940)
The Dancing Bear | Albert Bigelow Paine (1861-1937)
Equestrienne | Rachel Field (1894-1942)

Encore #1
Life Is Sweet
The Worst Thing
The Letter

Encore #2
Don't Talk
Kind & Generous

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