A traditional early start at Cadogan Hall and a capacity crowd is in place for what is to prove to be an outstanding night in the art of singer songwriting with the job of warming up the audience up going to Kim Richey. She appears on stage with a beaming smile, evidently pleased with the grandeur of the surroundings and the warm reception she receives. Her music is very much akin to Gretchen's and she later jokes that they have about 4 happy songs between them, the main difference between them tonight though is that she is playing solo with just her acoustic guitar. The lack of a band or at least an additional foil did render the opening three songs a bit similar, so "Those Words We Said", "Chinese Boxes" and "Every River" although beautifully sung were accompanied with a heavy strum. For "Chinese Boxes". forinstance she went with a version similar to that of the album of the same name whereas the acoustic version she has on "Little Record 1 & 2" would probably have suited the night and the attentive audience better..
So with that quibble aside the moved to songs from her latest record "Edgeland", "Pin A Rose" slowed the pace a little and worked much better, for a tale of domestic violence and the inability of the victim to break the cycle they are in. Kim made great company and clearly enjoyed her time. noting that "Chase Wild Horses" was her god daughters favourite and how odd it is to hear a child singing the line "things I've done that I ain't proud of"! The best song of the set was the more considered "Your Dear John" the slower pace again working better on the night.The final song of her short set was "Straight As The Crow Flies" but for Kim the evening was to be far from over.
It has been a difficult two years for Gretchen, losing a parent and gaining an unwanted president in the White House have all had their effects and all feed into her spectacular new record "Dancing With The Beast". As she takes to the stage with her three piece band it is the opening two tracks of that album that start the show "Arguing With Ghosts" and "Wichita" the latter one of the outstanding tracks of the album despatched incredibly early in the set but that was a sign of just how much quality was too come.
Barry Walsh was to leave his position on piano to strap on his accordion and then we were transported to the bullring for "The Matador" before completing one of the most blisteringly hot starts to a show all year with "Blackbirds". A lot of the success of the evening must go to the band who didn't feel the need to fill Cadogan Hall with swathes of noise but instead took a very considered approach to each song Colm McLean seemed to pick exactly the right guitar licks, while Conor McCreanor whether on electric or stand up bass gave a warmth to the sound and with no drummer in the band was also responsible for the stomp box when required. Gretchen cuts a tiny figure on stage but her presence is larger than life and her voice strong and crystal clear.
As the piano intro begins to "Truckstop Angel" or "The Boy From Rye" you appreciate that you are not just listening to songs these are little 3 or 4 minute epics. Such is the faith in the new album that it forms a large portion of the current set and it is fully justified. Gretchen admits that the election result unsettled her and that is perfectly encapsulated in "Lowlands", which was delivered here as a powerful tour de force.
Kim Richey returned to the stage to provide backing vocals on a run of songs the first being "Say Grace" which was performed with just Gretchen and Colm, the others being the title track "Dancing With Beast" and the slice of pure drama that is "Disappearing Act". A set with such a reliance on new material could easily go disastrously wrong but such was the quality that there was almost little need for old favourites, however Gretchen did find room for a section that included "Guadalupe" and a thunderous "When All You Got Is A Hammer", "On A Bus To St Cloud" and a powerfully effective "Five Minutes"
The main set closes out with "Idlewild" which saw Colm using his effects pedal to great effect, as well as a solo that saw Barry grinning hugely as he lapped it up. With the main set over the first of the encores saw the band lighten up with a rocking finale of " Why You Been Gone So Long" which included a piano versus guitar duel between Barry and Colm. The final moment of a memorable night had to be something, and it truly was , with the band despatched Gretchen stepped to the front of the stage and off microphone and unplugged sung " Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea" to a silent Cadogan Hall. In an age where the most mediocre talent show performer is deemed worthy of a standing ovation it was a joy to see a truly deserving one as the audience rose as one to show their appreciation for a quite extraordinary performance
The final song may have been played but for Gretchen and indeed Kim there was still work to be done as they stayed and signed cd's and posed for photographs with their many fans. Gretchen is especially personable and makes a point of saying your name as she says "Goodbye", It may be a small thing but it builds that rapport with the artist and i'll be surprised if many that she does that to are not there the next time she plays - an absolute professional of the highest order.