Natalie Merchant's commanding set hushes the NON-COMM crowd - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

It was a night of firsts for icon Natalie Merchant. The former 10,000 Maniacs vocalist and singer-songwriter in her own right performed a stripped-down set with just a microphone and accompanying pianist. The stage was sparse, but not without glamor. The piano in question was a Steinway after all, and Merchant’s rich voice needed little decoration. “We appreciate your silence,” she said before she sang a note, then emphasized, “we demand it.”

“This is the first time I’ve sung both parts,” said Merchant about opening song “Come On, Aphrodite” which features Abena Koomson-Davis on her new record Keep Your Courage. “The other thing I never do is eat dinner before coming on stage.” Merchant kept things loose, but charming, with interjections between or during most songs. She was (just about) the only person in the room talking — not a small feat for the raucous industry crowd — which turned out to be good fortune for her sound engineer Craig, who won a $10 bet with Merchant over the noise level of the crowd.

The audience was pleased to hear four songs from Keep, which feature prominent Greek mythology allegories. Merchant’s cool, deep voice was unwavering, and lulled the dark music hall. The set, therefore, was not representative of the songs’ album versions, which features full-band arrangements; rather, Merchant’s live performance was indicative of how those songs were written. As a finale, Merchant sang her song “Life Is Sweet” from 1998’s Ophelia.

Keep Your Courage is available now. She performs at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on June 25th.

Natalie Merchant
  • Come On, Aphrodite
  • Narcissus
  • Big Girls
  • Tower of Babel
  • Life Is Sweet
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