Hot on the heels of the release of her brand new CD, Dancing With The Beast, Gretchen Peters made a beyond welcome return to Sage Gateshead, after a year out from touring. The addition of Kim Richey as support, guaranteed it would be a special evening, but just how special, none of us could have predicted.
It is a while since Kim has played in these parts and clearly impressed with the room in which she found herself, she was relaxed and on top form vocally, with stories and banter between songs. From her earlier material, Kim treated us to beautiful renditions of such songs as Straight As The Crow Flies, Chinese Boxes, Every River Run Dry (which prompted a joke about how, like Gretchen, she has very few happy songs) and Hello Old Friend. Demonstrating a slightly different sound from her newly released CD, Edgeland, were Pin A Rose, Chase Wild Horses and the achingly beautiful, Your Dear John. It was lovely seeing her perform in Sage 2 and throughout, she had the audience captivated; never was this more apparent than the huge applause at the end of her set and the queue to purchase CDs afterwards. Her plans are to be touring here again in October and she has promised to play in the NE: I'm holding you to that, Kim.
The applause when Gretchen walked out on stage clearly demonstrated how much she was missed last year and how happy we were to have her back. It was apparent that the feeling was reciprocated; she spoke fondly of the fact that this was her tenth time playing Sage. It is also twenty two years since her first UK show at The Ropery in Sunderland (what a journey that's been, from 20 people to Sage 2); she shared how this area has always been very special to her because of this and because some of us who were at that first show were still there with her all this time later.
Accompaniment for the night came from the always amazing Barry Walsh on piano, vocals and accordion, Conor McCreanor on bass and Colm McLean on electric guitar. Absolutely stunning musicians, they all added something to the evening.
There was much banter between those on stage and the audience; best comedy moment came when she started up in the wrong key and Kim and Barry were waving wildly across the stage to let her know!
We were treated to some old and some new songs; in a stunning set, it was hard to choose favourites, Highlights for me included the achingly beautiful Arguing With Ghosts (arguably one of the best things Gretchen has written), Disappearing Act, Idlewild and much loved in the UK, Bus To St Cloud, dedicated to her dear friend Jimmy LaFave. Kim came out to provide backing vocals for several songs; the result? The most exquisite versions I have ever heard of Tom Russell's Guadalupe and a delivery of Say Grace, which prompted a reverent silence and brought tears to my eyes.
What struck me about the songs from the new album was that heard live, I found them even more relatable; as a woman, I found myself and people I know, hidden or described within the lyrics. Gretchen's gift is that she gets to the heart of what it is to be human, living in our world and somehow through her lyrics, captures the conflicted feelings of us all.
As an encore, we were treated to a rocking rendition of Why You Been Gone So Long; intentional or not, the irony wasn't lost. Just when we thought it was all over, Gretchen, without warning, stepped down from the stage to perform, off stage, an unplugged version of Love That Makes A Cup of Tea, that I don't think anyone will forget. Earlier, she had referenced waking up the day after the election in a n unfamiliar world and how this, coupled with her mum's passing, brought her to the realisation that the only thing with any chance of getting us all through is to 'love each other hard'. This song, delivered in this incredibly intimate, personal way, felt like her, somehow, loving us hard and encouraging us to take it out into the world.
Some nights of music are special. Some are magical. Some you wish could never have to end. This was all three. Sometimes some gigs shine brighter than others in our memories. This will be one of them.
Thankyou to all concerned, and to Gretchen, please don't do a disappearing act and leave it two years again!
Words: Helen Mitchell
Photo: Neil King
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