Gretchen Peters @ Birmingham Town Hall, 21st March 2015

Gretchen Peters @ Birmingham Town Hall, 21st March 2015Gretchen Peters @ Birmingham Town Hall, 21st March 2015

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Could there be a more rewarding experience, than that of catching a glimpse of the artist that brings you so much joy, whilst they are firmly in the ascension of their endeavours? Judging by the standing ovation that converged upon the final notes that fleeted around Birmingham’s Town Hall tonight, I suspect, the answer to be an emphatic no.

Gretchen Peters, the former New York resident, now firmly nestled within the musical mecca of Nashville, arrives in Birmingham for the sixth date of a mammoth UK tour in promotion of her new album ‘Blackbirds’.  Indeed, it is the new album’s title track which signals the arrival of Peters and her accomplished band of multi-instrumentalists – Barry Walsh: Piano and accordion, Christine Bougie: Guitar, drums, percussion and lap steel guitar and Conor McCreanor: Electric bass and double bass – to the stage.

The bleakness evoked in the tale of murder contained within the opening number ‘Blackbirds’ is quickly dissipated by the self-effacing Peters as she jokingly admonishes herself for the tone of despair, claiming to have gotten the most gloom soaked song from her ever expanding repertoire, “out-of-the-way first”. This is followed by a further helping of new material gleaned from the highly praised – and justifiably so – new album. The songs ‘When All You Got Is A Hammer’ and ‘Pretty Things’ are warmly received by the faithful fan base, which seems to increase in size with every trip Peters makes to the second city.

This dedicated following is further demonstrated by the conversation that I overhear from the couple sat in the row just behind myself. They are discussing the merits of the Birmingham Town Hall in comparison with the equally historic Harrogate Theatre, from which they have travelled, and to which both the musical, and the comical offerings of the Peters revue played out the night previously. The latter is in reference to “stoolgate”, a twitter conversation that erupted following the calamitous collapse of piano playing Walsh’s stool at the Harrogate venue. Much to the amusement of Peters herself whom tweeted a picture of a last minute addition to the rider list for the Birmingham show – a packet of Osteocare tablets had been jokingly included, just in case Walsh was still feeling the effects of the previous night’s tumble.

Any doubting Walsh’s ability to shake off any niggles from Harrogate must surely be banished by his performance on the cover of Rodney Crowell’s ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’, to which Walsh adds some truly thunderous piano pounding, whilst stood in a pose that even “The Killer”, Jerry Lee would be proud of.

In addition to Walsh, a special mention must go to Peters’ other band members. The modesty with which each member played enabled for a splendid balance that sought only to enhance the overall performance of each song, and not the ego of the musician. Bougie’s exceptional performance on the lap steel guitar, blended perfectly with Walsh’s equally splendid performance on piano and vocal harmony duties – the latter rewarded with his moment in the spotlight as Peters vacates the stage to make way for Walsh to perform ‘October Waltz’ – taken from his recently released ‘Silencio’ album.

It would seem that each night of this tour will be blessed with an impromptu interruption of some form or another. Harrogate had its “stoolgate” / “Harrowingate” moment, and tonight, as the band prepare to take a break for the interval, Peters announces that somewhere in the crowd there is a gentleman with more than music on his mind. The audience are suddenly privy to a wedding proposal, to which the answer is yes. Phew!

After the interval, Peters returns to the stage alone, for a heartfelt performance of ‘Independence Day’, a song that was voted to be in the top fifty country music songs of all time. Following this, the band return, and Peters is reunited with her trusted guitar for two of the night’s most outstanding performances. For me, ‘Everything Falls Away’ and the David Meade cover ‘Nashville’ see Peters and her band hitting their stride, as both songs demonstrate the sheer force of brilliance that makes up Peters incredible voice.

Though Peters songs are tinged with a sadness, they don’t evoke a feeling of hopelessness, rather feelings of strength in the face of adversity. Peters addresses the issues head on, rounded with a poetic sentiment that adds a humanity to the subject matter. The power to heal via the vessel of song is probably best summed up by Peters herself, “The cure for the pain, is the pain”. This audience tonight will certainly be ready to soak up another helping the next time Gretchen Peters ventures across the pond.

 

Reviewer – Chris Curtis

Photograph – from PR by Gina Binkley

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