Chicago artist Rachel Ries first reached a wider audience on a collaborative 2008 EP with Anais Mitchell called Country EP. However, her solo work doesn’t ring with as much twang as that title would suggest. Over the course of her career she’s shed more and more standard country forms, stretched out her storytelling into impressionist verse, gained confidence as a piano composer, but she’s smartly kept the focus on her spectacular voice. Her newest full-length, Ghost of a Gardner, supports that voice with a range of impressive instrumentation–from lush chamber arrangements to sparse guitar-percussion to this album’s version of a rocker, “Mercy.” A voice like Ries’ could send most pop songs back down their singer’s throat with shame, but though the voice is the center of this album, the arrangements are allowed to be weird and assertive, and you can feel a lot of smart voices at work. Several of the songs here appeared in sparer forms on her 2012 EP Laurel Lake, and to me the expansion wins in all cases. But if this album is a little busy for you, I would still highly recommend her (freely available) earlier albums. Ries’ kind of pop music looks to the likes Regina Spektor, Patty Griffin, Patsy Cline, Dennis Wilson, Harry Nilsson and does great by them. A theatrical album that satisfies as deeply and reliably as a folk one.
I have been a huge Elbow fan for years but had never been able to get to one of their shows, so when I saw that they would be opening for Coldplay I thought 2 things: hooray for finally getting to see this band that I love, and boo for having to see them as an opener for Coldplay. Then they announced that they were going to do a small handful of headlining shows in the US, the closest one to me being in Atlanta, and I was ecstatic. I bought my $20 tickets, booked a hotel room and started counting the days until the show.
Suddenly 4 months had passed and we were driving past the venue looking for a parking space, eyeballing at the line of people leading from the doors of the Center Stage theater as it stretched down the street to the corner and starting to make a right angle down the block. We were there 30 minutes before doors and there had to already be 50+ people there ahead of us, so I resigned myself right there to the fact that I was never going to get anywhere near the stage. When the doors finally opened and we got inside the venue, I was amazed that there was hardly anyone down on the floor in front of the stage, instead people had gone the seats. Their laziness was my gain and I took my place up at the front. Killing time (and vodka) before the show, I chatted with the people around me. Turns out I was not only not the only one to have traveled to the show, I had not even remotely traveled the farthest as I ended up striking up a conversation with someone from Portland who had seen them all over the country. “See?” I told my boyfriend, “I’m not crazy.” He simply countered that I was just not the craziEST. Fair enough.
Right on time Guy Garvey, Elbow’s frontman, came out to introduce their opener, Jesca Hoop. He joked that she doesn’t have a band because they weren’t going to pay for one then out came an unassuming chick with a guitar. She reminded me of Regina Spektor with a touch more white chick soul. Not Janis soul, maybe more like Joni- or Judy-type soul.
Finally it was time for the main act and they opened the show with a bang, or rather a blare. Five band members with trumpets lined the front of stage and kicked off “Starlings” to a cheering crowd that had finally gotten out of their seats and filled up the floor. The small stage in this intimate 1100 capacity venue was also full, with the 5 members of Elbow with their guitars, drums, keyboards, horns, etc, plus 2 (rather well-endowed) violinists. Guy worked the crowd like a carnival barker, joking around and even giving props to a girl who held up a sign taking credit for a thread on their message board that praised keyboardist Craig Potter. And there were singalongs. Lots of them. And I love that shit. I love being a part of a chorus of thousands (or in this case hundreds), especially when it’s to music from a band I adore.
As we all sang along to the chorus of “On A Day Like This”, I knew that this moment in time is why we drove 7 1/2 hours for 3 1/2 hours of Elbow, and it was soooo well worth it. Yep, this show was pretty much perfect, I even got a setlist. Oh yes, I went full teenage fangirl for this show and I’m proud of it. I’ve already warned the boyfriend that I fully intend to travel as far as needed to see them should they come back across the pond, and they’re so good I’d even consider still seeing them as an opener if they come back when Coldplay reschedules their Tampa show. Maybe.
We didn’t know Elbow had a relaxed camera policy so we’d left the SLR at the hotel, so forgive the uber graininess but you can see more pix from the show here.