Concert Review: Anaïs Mitchell @ 9:30 Club (5/24/22)

Anaïs Mitchell (Photo Credit: Jay Sansone)

Anaïs Mitchell’s show at the 9:30 Club on May 24th was a welcome beacon of hope in the sea of despair surrounding recent events in the U.S.

Anaïs is touring for her eighth studio album (self-titled), which was released in January 2022. She left the 9:30 Club with no mysteries about the power and heft of this new crop of songs, as she performed nine (out of 12 on the Deluxe version) for the attentive audience. Many of the songs were preceded by personal stories and memories, often told as she paused to tune one of the three guitars she had on stage.

The first indication that this was no ordinary concert was the 9:30 Club floor and balconies were filled with folding chairs! Yes, this was a seated show, and I would be hard pressed to remember ever attending the like at the 9:30 Club previously. Sitting seems to give one more focus on the music and the stage, rather than spending energy in standing or shifting or claiming your territory in a crowded space. Your mood remains calm and relaxed, because your view is unobstructed. Rather than all the vitriol your mind may have had to target towards those standing in front of you (like there is always that one guy that won’t stop folding his arms behind his head, or that one person that keeps holding up their phone to film 30 second snippets of a live show, you know, awful people).

You may also know Anaïs from her stint with Bonny Light Horseman, a folk supergroup (with Eric D. Johnson and Josh Kaufman) that started touring just before the pandemic, including a gig in DC in 2020 and another one earlier in 2022.

Or you may know Anaïs as the writer of the musical Hadestown, which premiered in 2006, and has been running off and on in the US and London since, including Broadway. It was also awarded 8 wins (of 14 nominations) at the 2019 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Or you may know Anaïs as a solo artist, who has been performing since she was age 17, and has released an impressive eight albums, if you count Hadestown (I do), in over 20 years. She did perform one song from Hadestown, “The Wedding Song”, where we also saw the drummer transform into a skilled tambourine player. The only kind of tambourine player.

She kicked off her 16-song set with “Morning Glory”, a bonus track from the new self-titled album, with just her and one member of her backing band on guitar. This started off a 5-song block from the new album.

Then the full backing band, three in total, joined her on stage for her rendition of “Bright Star”, highlighting her introspective lyrics and bright voice, that pervaded the entire show.

She wrote the next two songs about New York, including “On Your Way (Felix Song)”, about a friend that passed away in 2020. The block ended with “Little Big Girl”, a song she started writing in 2016, but she needed more emotional growth to complete it years later. It is about the fears of growing up, and the recognition that the adults in your life, like your mother, were also making it up as they went. The rhythm is almost heart-breaking, when pared with the honest, revealing lyrics.

Later, with the epic mood that “Wilderland”conveyed, it felt like the storyteller of the song somehow lived five lifetimes in mere minutes. Almost in apology, Anaïs said, ‘I was in to some dark stuff.’ when describing the era she wrote the song.

The back drop of the stage was a giant, sturdy set of curtains, as if we were in a theatre ready to witness the joys of a musical. They changed colors often, seemingly to match the many moods of each song. This further contributed to an overall atmosphere that instilled a quiet energy from the audience.

Anaïs ended the main set with another block of songs from the new album, starting with “Words”, which she described as a song about how hard it is to write songs. She concluded with “Revenant”, about trying to pull back a memory from the letters and objects we keep.

She returned for a two-song encore, and when the first bars of Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” reached our ears, it was all over. I still haven’t recovered.

The opening act, Samantha Crain, joined to help sing “Your Fonder Heart” and then the show ended, and a hopeful memory is all that remains. A welcome revenant to pull back when needed.

I’m sure you’ve already bought Anaïs Mitchell’s new album, so I don’t need to tell you to do that, but do pick up a copy of Bonny Light Horsemen’s only album, as you will enjoy that as well. And a head’s up, Hadestown will be showing at The National Theatre in DC from June 6-11, 2023. Only one year away!!

Setlist

  1. Morning Glory
  2. Bright Star
  3. On Your Way (Felix Song)
  4. Brooklyn Bridge
  5. Little Big Girl
  6. Wedding Song
  7. Ships
  8. Wilderland
  9. Dyin Day
  10. Out of Pawn
  11. The Words
  12. Watershed
  13. Backroads
  14. Revenant

Encore

  1. The End of the Innocence (Don Henley cover)
  2. Your Fonder Heart

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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