Singer-songwriter superstar Natalie Merchant sparkled, performing a career-spanning set in front of a sold-out crowd last Wednesday night at DC’s Lincoln Theatre. The show was originally scheduled for July 12th but illness unfortunately forced Merchant to postpone her concert date. Touring behind her first wholly original collection of songs in 13 years, Merchant opened with “Texas,” one of the strikingly soulful tracks off her new and exceptional self-titled record to a thunderous eruption of applause.
In addition to featuring brand-new songs from her sixth solo album, the 20-song set concentrated on Merchant’s first solo work, 1995’s Tigerlily. A documentary crew man was present to film the audience’s ever enthusiastic connection to the album, as Merchant reworked some of its songs with varied orchestral arrangements. “Beloved Wife” — sounded as emotionally powerful and stunning as ever. “Seven Years” was given more depth and breadth with the gorgeous guitar arrangements. “River,” the song about the death of actor River Phoenix, was particularly poignant, showcasing Merchant’s commanding presence and exquisitely hypnotic voice.
Often conducting as well as dancing with abandon, Merchant appeared to be in great spirits and having the best time. And, her four-piece band played brilliantly, beautifully framing Merchant’s voice with a balanced blend of electric and acoustic sound throughout – truly musicianship of exceptional quality. The players included longtime guitarist/vocalist Gabriel Gordon who also served as Merchant’s confidant throughout the night, the phenomenal pianist/accordion player Uri Sharlin, and the outstanding Jesse Murphy on bass.
With a playful attitude and whimsical improvising, Merchant was quite charming and engaging. Midway through the show, Merchant decided to switch up the concert set list and asked for an audience member’s phone to look up the words to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and, later, successfully coaxed a sing-along. Noticing people standing on the sides of the venue, she encouraged everyone to come and join her up front during the encore trio of some of her best known works — “Wonder,” “Carnival” and 10,000 Maniacs’ “These Are Days.” Lincoln Theatre’s aisles swelled with dancing crowds singing along with unfettered joy.
With nearly the entire audience on their feet, Merchant capped the evening with “Kind & Generous,” welcoming all the ladies to the stage— as she greeted and shook hands with those in the first few rows while the song had everyone clapping, cheering and chanting. Keenly nuanced and extraordinarily pure, Merchant’s performance was more of a continuous celebration, seamlessly combining her three decades of experience and echoing her motto of “enjoy yourself”.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with no intermission.