Nanci Griffith, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow | New music reviews, news & interviews
Nanci Griffith, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
Still angry after all these years, the Texan singer-songwriter brings her dust-bowl hymns out on tour
“I know what I was angry about when I wrote this,” Nanci Griffith told the crowd as she introduced “Hell No (I’m Not Alright)”, “but you can get your anger out about whatever you want.”
It seemed a little odd that Griffith left the big hook (if the bold, sloganned t-shirts of the crowd are anything to be believed) from new album Intersection until after the house lights came back up for the first time, but back in her native America the song can lead to pandemonium. Delivered with gusto, complete with synchronised clapping from two burly roadies in matching sunglasses, its lyrics are not overtly political, but there was no question last night just where the singer’s anger was directed.
I am almost exactly twice as old as I was the first time my dad took me to see Griffith in concert at this same grand Glasgow venue. When she appeared on stage last night - tiny, birdlike, singing with opening act the Kennedys on “Daydream Believer”, a joyous tribute to the recently-deceased Davy Jones - I worried that the preceding 15 years had taken their toll. Since we last met Griffith has twice kicked cancer into touch but, although she remained seated through the most of the show as the result of a recent fall, nothing has affected a voice full of passion, tenderness and rage, sometimes even during the same song.
The dust-bowl hymns from the earlier recordings have grown in relevance
With her latest collection at its second week at number one on the UK country charts the singer could have been forgiven for embracing the promotional route but instead, right from the opening cover of John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”, what we got was something of a greatest hits collection. Griffith’s take on the song remains my definitive version (maybe partly because when I learned the words at 12 years old I had no way of knowing it was a cover), but it’s only one example of the canon of contemporary folk that she has made her own. “From a Distance”, later, was dedicated to the women of Afghanistan with a plea to bring home US and British soldiers rather than continue to allow them to prop up a regime that views half of its people as second class citizens, while Kate Wolf’s “Across a Great Divide” was a passionate tribute to the late war correspondent Marie Colvin.
In fact, you could argue that the dust-bowl hymns from the earlier recordings have grown in relevance. “Flyer”, the apparently true story of a romantic missed connection in Pittsburgh Airport, was given a contemporary update to call for the safe return of troops abroad. “Trouble in the Fields” may date back to 1987 but the economic plight of its central characters and its effect on the agricultural infrastructure is a perfect echo of the shuttered steel mill that provides the backdrop to Intersection’s “Bethlehem Steel”. But that isn’t to say that these songs are sad dirges - the latter in particular is stuffed with hope, mischief and Griffith’s trademark wit. “Robert De Niro will never run naked through the streets of Bethlehem...” she sang wickedly, her face a picture of disappointment, referencing The Deer Hunter, which was filmed in the town. And thanks to Griffith, who began the song like every other with a personal and hilarious story about how it came into being or its meaning to her, I can tell you that that particular scene arrives 47 minutes into a movie I have never seen. No need to thank me, ladies.
Her politics may not be hidden but thanks to both the warmth of Griffith’s between-song storytelling and the vividness of the characters she creates it rarely strayed into preaching territory. Even if that wasn’t your thing, a heartfelt performance of old favourite “Love at the Five and Dime” remained one of the sweetest love songs ever penned.
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