|All photos by Kevin Norris|
Her voice, powerful and rich, filled the Durham Performing Arts Center. In person, her voice grabs you by the ear and demands attention.
Her music appeared to fuel her on stage. She’s constantly animating her songs with arm, leg and body motions as she dances across the stage and around the band. At times the movements turn into cues as she directs her band members. Her stage presence is commanding.
In between songs, she dealt with audience members with kindness and humor. One particular instance — she caught a man in the front row telling his friend she had “a good booty” — provided fodder for the rest of the night.
The concert featured songs from her newest project, Leave Your Sleep. Each song was inspired by and adapted from poems about, for or by children. Merchant took time to introduce each song with a brief slide show and biography of its respective poet/poem. She beamed with pride during each introduction like a student presenting her final project.
Her new material showcases her versatility by covering a wide range of world folk music styles. The audience was appreciative, but didn’t seem too familiar with the songs until “Bleezer’s Ice-cream” was performed. Hopefully this show will inspire folks to listen to the new album more because these songs are remarkably polished. The powerful blues “The Peppery Man” was particularly impressive.
She left the stage to a standing ovation only to return minutes later for an encore. These tunes needed no extra introduction and Merchant played them all back-to-back, the crowd whooping after a few bars when they recognized each. For the first time all night, a few folks stood up and danced. While the intro of “Wonder” played, Merchant announced it would be the band’s last song. A chunk of the audience left afterwards, but the remaining members cheered and pleaded for more.
Merchant and her band returned to play “The Letter” during which she seemed to get her second wind.
“You can go home, but we’re going to keep playing music!” Merchant said to cheers.
They closed out with the ever popular “These are Days” and “Kind & Generous.” Finally, the whole audience was standing. Some were dancing, some swaying and some cuddling, but all eyes were fixed on Merchant.
The Sleepy Giant
The Man in the Wilderness
The King of China’s Daughter
Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience
Spring and Fall: To a Young Child
Maggie and Milly and Molly and May
The Peppery Man
The Janitor’s Boy
Adventures of Isabel
If No One Ever Marries Me
The Dancing Bear
The Worst Thing
Gold Rush Brides
Hey Jack Kerouac
Break Your Heart
These Are Days
Kind & Generous