There is something to be said in this era of huge concert productions, for a musician to fill a venue, show up with a band, and play. No huge frills, pyrotechnics, or costume changes, just two sets of solid material.
Natalie Merchant came back to Chicago after taking a seven year break, and took the stage as if that hiatus never even happened. Returning to the music scene with the amazing "Leave Your Sleep" 2 cd album, she still gave the same vibe she's so adept at, and that's making you feel like you're in the middle of an after dinner jam session in her living room. There was dancing, fun stories, joking with the crowd (even swiping a cell phone and taking her own pictures!) and all of those things that have you leaving the show with a smile on your face.
We even got a PowerPoint poetry lesson! Slides and Merchant's obvious knowledge and love of poetry prompted her to ask us, "Who says poetry isn't fun?".
Well, I still don't think it is. But it would be if Natalie Merchant became an English professor!
The music however, was the reason we were all there, and as usual, didn't disappoint. Backed by a folk/orchestral band of rotating musicians, Merchant stuck mostly to the "Leave Your Sleep" material, but we did get the favorites intertwined within the two sets. Some of the concertgoers were a little put off by so much focus being on "Leave Your Sleep", and I too would have liked to hear a bit more from "Ophelia" and "Motherland" but the journey the new music takes you on with it's ranging tempos and conceptual lyrics was better than listening to the songs we've known for years.
We did get songs like "Carnival" but reworked to have a fun Flamenco vibe to dress it up and make it shiny and new again. And "Eat For Two" was so haunting and beautiful in the way it was stripped down.
Merchant's voice is as great as it always has been, taking the tempo and genre changes of each song and bringing us right into the journey. Pitch perfect, haunting, and emotional it's no wonder that her music and fan base has remained solid even after a seven year absence.
You definitely came away from this show with a smile and bounce in your step, not even realizing an entire night just went by. Great show, and an amazing performance.