Last night we headed to King’s Place to see the American singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier perform songs from her latest album, Rifles & Rosary Beads.
Gauthier opened with Between the Daylight and the Dark, and then Last of the Hobo Kings, from her much-loved album Between Daylight and Dark. This had the audience captivated sufficiently to explain the Songwriting With Soldiers collaboration with service men and women that has resulted in her new material. Forty or fifty songs with soldiers over the last five years later, Gauthier now brings those tales of conflict and its consequences to her fan base. And boy, are the songs powerful…
With an understandable need to inject some levity and allow the songs to speak for themselves, Gauthier found disarming, funny or charming ways to introduce each one, and tell us about the soldier she had worked with in writing it. The recounting of the young man behind It’s Her Love was hilarious, as was the origin of the “free breakfast at the Waffle House” line in Bullet Holes in the Sky. But learning the context of each song was rewarding, and Gauthier is an artist who can forge an immediate connection with her audience and have them spellbound with storytelling, music… or both.
As for the songs themselves, Gauthier’s vocals, guitar and harmonica was accompanied solely by Michele Gazich on violin, where the produced album has percussion and a bigger production. Sung live, and with a different inflection on some words and phrases, Gauthier gave her audience a new way of encountering the stories. It’s wonderful to hear different nuances, or ‘see’ familiar songs in a different light. Their potency is enhanced by the live performance. As soon as she introduced Still on the Ride, a song about survivor’s guilt, there were tears amongst audience members (it gets us every time), and Soldiering On, about the shocking suicide rates amongst military personnel, had a similar effect. But there is safety and beauty in the sorrowful – it’s a cathartic experience that heightens all the emotions, so that the climax of the show was positively uplifting.
After performing Stronger Together, the album finale about the close-knit wives of the bomb disposal personnel, Gauthier invited her support act, Ben Glover, back onto the stage. The songwriter from Northern Ireland whose music has a similar melancholic streak had been warmly-received earlier in the evening, and hearing the co-written songs performed by the two, who clearly get along like a house on fire, added yet another dimension to an already special night.
With a delightful acerbic wit, Gauthier dedicated Oh Soul (which concerns a Faustian pact) to Paul Ryan, and Another Train was a jam that saw Michele Gazich trade violin for piano. It was exhilarating stuff, and Mercy Now (always a favourite) was a return to the poignancy of peak Gauthier, before an audacious encore of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land, updated to make a point about Donald Trump’s America – with full audience participation! – took us to yet another emotional level.
It was an amazing concert by an artist with so many great songs to tell, and one with a sharp view of the world and the human condition. Seeing Gauthier live is incredible – her ability to connect so strongly with her audience is a rare gift, and everyone at King’s Place felt involved. It’s one thing loving an artist’s recorded music, but when their live show gives you a different experience, brings you fully into the drama, and takes you on an emotional journey – it amounts to a night to remember. Catch Mary at different venues throughout the UK for the next week.
See also our interview with Mary Gauthier where she talks about her creative process for Rifles & Rosary Beads.
Set list: Between the Daylight and the Dark, Last of the Hobo Kings, It’s Her Love, Still on the Ride, Bullet Holes in the Sky, Iraq, Soldiering On, Stronger Together, Oh Soul, Another Train, Mercy Now, This Land is Your Land Performance date: 10th May 2018