Anaïs Mitchell and Austin Evans

Live Review | The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds | Review and Photos by Keith Belcher

It had , to my recollection, been five years since Anaïs played The Brudenell Club, in fact Anaïs’s UK gigs have been quite sparse since then. She hasn’t been lazy however. Anaïs’s time has been largely involved with her very successful opus Hadestown, currently doing eight performances a week on Broadway. The post apocalyptic folk musical took eight of the fourteen Tonys on offer at this years Tony Awards Ceremony including best musical and best original score – not bad going by any standards (minor understatement)…..

The refreshingly non demure New Orleans based Carsie Blanton opened the show. An ideal opener for the show, original grown up, down to earth often explicit, risqué and funny songs, accompanied by her simple and sparse strummed electric guitar. Carsie created a great atmosphere, creating a warm rapport with the audience. I loved the way I could hear and understand every word without effort, songs were well introduced , something many opening artists (and headliners) should emulate. Topics covered included Mae West, love songs, hate songs, apocalypses, Nazis, masturbation finishing with an up-tempo and upbeat “Buck Up” that , in these times , is very topical. As an addition to the usual merchandise Carsie was also selling limited copies of a talking about sex card game called The F’ing Truth. Someone to watch for. I suspect we could and should hear much more from her.

I should say this gig was a predominantly standing gig, not my favourite type. Usually at The Brudenell that often means incessant chatting in the audience. I was extremely pleased that Anaïs was awarded the respect and attention she deserves. If all gigs at the Brudenell were so I would probably go there more. From the rapturous applause on taking the stage it was easy to see that she had been sorely missed. Anaïs is an extremely charismatic entertainer giving the audience the same rapt attention that they were giving her. Anaïs was very ably accompanied by Austin Nevins on guitar and vocals. There was very little new on offer during the show but along with everyone else I don’t think we cared; it was just good to hear her singing the songs live. The first two songs were from 2007’s The Brightness. Carsie’s efforts at warming the audience up really showed in the participation on “Your Fonder Heart.” The evening in many ways was a voyage through the Anaïs back catalogue and what a wonderful experience it was. Anaïs probably has a marmite voice, you either love it or don’t but whatever your vocal preference the quality of the song writing is beyond compare. “O My Star” from her 2008 collaborative album Country with Rachel Ries followed. Six year-old Daughter Ramona was backstage in the green room and at times conversation revolved around unicorns and similar magical beasts. From 2008 we jumped to several songs from 2012’s Young Man in America including a wonderful transition from “Wilderland” to “Young Man In America.” This album was the follow up to 2010 Hadestown and it is just as rich in tales and characters as Hadestown. Austin Nevins guitar punctuating every phrase that Anaïs sang, just wonderful. “Wilderland” is so appropriate to the current political and cultural climates of both America and the UK. An unrecorded song followed, “The Pursewarden Affair” , named after a Lawrence Durrell character. It was at this point that Anaïs confirmed with the audience that all was OK. We were just so quiet and well behaved she felt the need to check. Someone shouted “we’re in awe!”, it was true. A quick return to The Brightness for “Changer” then onto Hadestown for “The Wedding Song” which featured a wonderful segue to and from Gillian Welch’s “Talking Elvis Presley Blues.” “Why We Build The Wall” predated the concept by he who shall not be named but the lyrics are so apt. Who do we call the enemy?, The enemy is poverty/And the wall keeps out the enemy/And we build the wall to keep us free/ That’s why we build the wall/We build the wall to keep us free/Because we have and they have not! (Lyrics Anaïs Mitchell).

I was lucky enough to see Anaïs at Nottingham in November 2016 the day Orange45 was elected and, unprompted, when she sang the song the audience responded by singing, without prompting, verses and chorus as one voice. Anaïs looked amazed. In the musical the song is sung by Hades, ruler of Hell. All similarities between modern characters are purely coincidental! The phrase go back where you come from takes on new meaning if you take the wall builder as Hades. There is a new project in the near future called Bonny Light Horseman which reflects Anaïs’s long established love of traditional music especially from the UK. The album is called that as well as the band and the title track. What we got on the night was a stripped back version of the song recalling the Napoleonic Wars. A new song “Morning Glory” followed. The song is about daughter Ramona who made her stage entrance weaving around Anaïs and Austin with a free form expressive dance. Apparently the first time this had happened, rapturous applause. In response to an earlier request shouted from the floor the wonderfully beautiful “Now You Know” from 2014’s XOA was the first encore eliciting huge and very tuneful audience accompaniment. Calling Carsie on stage the final encore was a very appropriate cover of Woody Guthrie’s song about a 1948 airline crash and the subsequent radio comments, “Deportees”, Carsie and Anaïs taking lead on alternate verses. A wonderful and fitting end to a very wonderful night which lifted the spirits of all present.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, “They are just deportees” (Woody Guthrie)