Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kathy Mattea at the UI Research Park

Kathy Mattea's set last night was terrific. A mix of songs that I know by other people and songs that she's made famous and reside somewhere in my subconscious combined with a crackerjack band made for a wonderful evening of music.

Her latest album is called (and is about) Coal, and the songs from that disc formed the core of the set, although she did not shy from dipping into other parts of her repertoire.

The band was quite good, and they had their own crew man (originally from Champaign) running the sound and lights, which were both (for the most part) excellent. Fiddler/mandolinist Eamon O'Rourke was spectacular. Originally from Ireland (and recently married in New York, we were told), his nimble fingers and tight bowing produced an attack that was a mix of David Oistrakh and Michael Cleveland. He got better as the night went on, and by the end of the show, I was saying, "Wow!" every time that he soloed. David Spicher -- son of bluegrass fiddler Buddy Spicher -- was on bass, and he got to take surprising number of solos, and he never disappointed when he did. The soundman made sure that his solos were audible, although early on, he was pushing the bass a little too loud, almost to the exclusion of the other instruments. Bill Cooley provided solid lead guitar chops, although he didn't blow my mind the way that he has that of some other bloggers. The other great thing about the band using their own crew person was that the spotlights were always on whoever was soloing -- I've seen too many shows at clubs in New York where that's not the case.

Kathy offered up what seemed like a genuine compliment of opener Ryan Groff's voice, complimenting his pipes and joking, "It ticks me off that he sings higher than I do!" I thought it was very professional of her to provide such honest thanks of a local opener.

The set list went like this:
  • Dark as a Dungeon

  • Goin' Gone - beautifully done, and a great choice to jump into a big hit after the opening Merle Travis tune

  • Untold Stories

  • The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore

  • You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive - a fairly standard treatment of this Darrell Scott classic, but what a great song

  • Red Winged Blackbird - a Billy Edd Wheeler song, not to be confused with the David Francey song of the same name; from the Coal album

  • Coal Tattoo - back-to-back Billy Edd Wheeler

  • Love at the Five and Dime - Kathy told two good stories about her (and Nanci Griffith's) first hit, one involving a bug flying into her mouth on the last chorus the first time that she ever sang it live and one about connecting with her mother (who was suffering from Alzheimer's) through the song

  • Time Passes By

  • Come from the Heart

  • 18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses - Kathy got all of us to sing and then to sing louder, and then she said, "That was lovely. Now can someone tell me what an Illini is?"

  • Harley

  • Gimme Shelter - a very solid acoustic Rolling Stones moment with excellent work on the lights

  • Where've You Been - written by Kathy's husband Jon Vezner

  • Mr. Smith Had an Oldsmobile

  • ENCORE: Black Lung - Kathy sang this Hazel Dickens classic a capella

  • And then -- to end the show on a slightly more upbeat note than "Black Lung" -- the band came back out, and Kathy picked up the penny whistle, and they played a set of Irish tunes.
All in all, it was a great show with everything in place: solid musicians, beautiful vocals, good sound, a good-sized crowd, good lighting and a beautiful prairie sky.

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