Anais Mitchell at The Queen's Hall in Edinburgh tonight was obviously playing to a an audience at this well attended show who knew pretty much every song in the set-list, and this created a very warm and special atmosphere to the evening. The fact that Anais Mitchell could draw such a large crowd to this former church building (seating capacity around 900) during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when there are hundreds of other performances on in any one day (over 4,000 for the entire festival) is itself a tribute to her popularity as a singer-songwriter.
I have to admit that until this show I was aware of Anais Mitchell as a singer and a songwriter, but not “familiar” with her work, and it is obvious that I have missed a major talent and need to after this review go and look closely at her back catalogue of songs.
Perhaps the thing that interests me most about Anais Mitchell is the way that she uses words in her lyrics. These songs are so often not the throw-away lyrics of many contemporary songs, but wonderfully crafted works of multi layered depth, emotion and observation of everything around her. The writing style of rarely using rhyming lines or repeating “song hooks” in the more conventional songwriting style means that Anais Mitchell is working more like an author writing text then putting it to music. The result is little stories created in every song, with words almost creating little paintings in your mind.
The set list for this show covered the full range of Anais Mitchell’s writing career, from early work never recorded to songs from a new folk song based project due to be released next year. In between these two musical career “bookends” were songs from previous albums including 'Young Man in America', and 'Hadestown'. The latter is obviously a huge fan favourite and this long-time to completion project is now a Broadway musical winning 8 Tony awards including "Best Musical" and "Best Original Score" for Anaïs.
Sometimes a songwriter writes something for a project years ago and has no idea that future events will make their words seem almost prophetic, but this has happened to Anais Mitchell with “Why We Build The Wall” from 'Hadestown'. Sometimes when you imagine what Hell could be like, you never dream in your worst nightmares that it could be far worse than you could ever think, but happen so soon in your life-time here now in your own country.
Some songs from the 'Young Man in America' not only show the very unique writing style and talents of Anais Mitchell, but give us an insight into how words have always been inter-woven into her life as some songs on this album, like “Shepherd” are responses to her father Don Mitchell’s fable “Soul of Lambs” text.
Anais Mitchell is a songwriter in the old folk traditions sense of the word, and by that I mean someone who is going to record for everyone who wants to hear her feeling whenever and wherever she sees injustice in this world, and through some of the songs tonight a powerful statement is made with an old Woody Guthrie song, Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) that is just as relevant now as it was when it was written; history really does repeat in what seems an endlessly repeating cycle of both itself and its mistakes without learning anything along the way.
When the quality of the songwriting and level of musicianship are this good, no "on-stage theatrics" are required and a stripped down performance style of only Anais Mitchell on vocals and guitar with Austin Nevins also on guitar worked perfectly and powerfully here.
Opening the show this evening, Carsie Blanton who is a singer/songwriter based in New Orleans who for some reason reminds me much of singers that I watched in concert during the punk years of the 1970s – that very in your face whether you like it or not attitude. Songwise, Carsie Blanton has an entirely different writing style to Anais, but Carsie Blanton is obviously learning much from other writers as she refines her craft -she has toured with Paul Simon, the Wood Brothers, the Weepies and Joan Osborne.
The Queen's Hall
2 hours 30 minutes
Country: United States
Group: Anais Mitchell
Review by Tom King