Friday, June 17, 2005

Mary Gauthier and Kathleen Edwards at Uncle Pleasants


I think we're too old for Uncle P's any more, sad as that is to say. Too crowded, too smoky, and too small for comfort. Still, I'll go anywhere to see Mary Gauthier, who was making her first appearance in Louisville. She seemed to be having a good time, as she told the crowd: "The radio appearance went well. The hotel is nice. And the place is packed. What more can a songwriter ask for in the middle of her life?"

There are not enough words for me to say how awesome I think her latest, Mercy Now, is. She may very well be the best chronicler of the miserable depths of the human condition since Prine and Kristofferson. No Mercy takes you into those dark places where our demons, both personal and societal, dwell. But, she manages, through the prayer-like lyrics of the title tune to leave us with a small ray of hope. Yeah, we all need a little mercy now, but we have somebody like Mary Gauthier on our side calling for us to get it. That’s more than good enough for me.

Gauthier's set was too short for my tastes, but she chose her material well. The songs largely came from Mercy Now, but she threw a couple of surprises in too: Our Lady of the Shooting Stars (from Drag Queens and Limousines) and Christmas in Paradise (from Filth and Fire). I had about a half dozen more that I wanted to hear, but she was only the opener, not the headliner. So, I had to take what I could get.

Nevertheless, she held the crowd spellbound, hanging on to every note and word. There was none of the typical noise and rudeness that opening acts typically have to endure. It was awesome to experience. For a few minutes, a room full of complete strangers let this woman take us all on a ride to some of the darker corners of life. Like I said: Awesome.

She had one guitar player with her and their stripped down playing and singing was all she needed to carry us all along. In the end she got a greater ovation than the headliner would later. Gauthier promised to return to Louisville to headline a show. I intend to hold her to that.

Unfortunately, Kathleen Edwards couldn't build on the energy and enthusiasm Gauthier left her. She's talented. Her band was good. She's written some good songs. But the show was largely average with a few moments of brilliance tossed in.

Part of the problem is Edwards' voice. It's too fragile and hollow to front a band as loud as hers. Until the end of the show, she was completely lost in the mix, the vocals completely muddled and slurred. I don't have her new CD yet, and based on what I heard at the show, I have no clue if there's anything on it that I would like. It's obvious she wants to be a rocker-chick, but she just doesn't have the chops to pull it off.

I think her material has a good edge to it, but she needs to present it in a way that showcases that edge instead of dulling it. The show only came together in the last four or five songs, which included Six o'clock News and One More Song the Radio Won't Like from her first CD. She didn't tamper with them or their arrangements and as a result, everyone could hear and experience with wit and skill of her writing. I just wish the rest of the show had been like that.

To give Edwards credit, she got a good stage presence when she's not striking rocker-chick poses and is at ease with the audience. She's got a quick, dry wit that serves her well when she's chatting in between songs. There's tons of potential there, but she has a lot of work to do on her live performances.

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