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Anais Mitchell - Luminaire, London, 21/1/2009

  by Charles Howarth

published: 23 / 1 / 2009

Anais Mitchell - Luminaire, London, 21/1/2009


Signed to Ani Difranco’s Righteous Babe Records, American singer-songwriter has been making an increasing impact in Britain. Guest reviewer Charles Howarth watches her play a emotive set to an entranced audience at the Luminaire in London

My brother and I spent the tube journey home from watching Anais Mitchell at the Luminaire arguing about Nick Hornby, Dylan, and the merits of pop music versus loftier poetic lyricism. About the gig we’d just seen though, we were in absolute agreement, Anais Mitchell was superb. The Luminaire is one of those places that you’d take a friend along to (the sort of friend that’s impressed by these things…) the sort of place that’s sufficiently small to feel intimate, sufficiently dark to feel moody, and sufficiently far up Kilburn High Street that you feel like you’re part of a secret that hasn’t quite slipped out yet. Aside from a depressing lack of ale (a bottled IPA and Guinness the only offerings, but I was on the lager anyway - there’s no accounting for taste is there?) I can’t imagine a better place to watch an acoustic gig. We arrived just as the support act, the Bowmans were beginning their first song. The Brooklyn based twins were instantly engaging with a relaxed, jovial and at times genuinely amusing stage presence. Their country and folk songs demonstrated an appreciation of Joni Mitchell’s canon, but they claim amongst their influences such diverse acts as Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Power and the 16th Century Italian, Palestrina (who, by the way, is amazing). They are playing in London again on the 1st February, at the Green Note in Camden, and my brother was sufficiently impressed that he literally wrote the date in his diary during the show - an act sufficiently grown up to make me wonder where the last 23 years have gone… I might well join him. Anais Mitchell has a demur countenance which is utterly charming, and I rather suspect that she hasn’t quite grasped just how talented she is. Opening with 'Cosmic American', a track from her 2004 Album, 'Hymns for the Exiled', she demonstrated that not only has she improved as a guitarist in the time since that album went to the printers, but that she has retained the raspy New England vocal twang which she uses to such effect to display emotions as varied as anger and bitterness in the light of Bush-era America and heartfelt nostalgia towards her hometown background. As a guitarist she is a successful minimalist, utilising the sixth string of her guitar like a period in a carefully punctuated sentence. Her songs are rich in the history of the road paved by Guthrie, Dylan, Cohen and Cash. Storytelling is clearly something that she does very well, and the songs have a depth, an ideology, that marks them a step above. Evidently a multi-faceted musician, Mitchell’s work comprises of libertarian social and political commentary, discussing the concepts of freedom, honesty and fear, but it is her rustic storytelling - one new song, for example, is based on a story by her father about sheep farming, - that I enjoyed most. It is here where she allows her patchwork of influences, travels and cultures to blend into creations infused in her unique perspective. Signed to Ani Difranco’s Righteous Babe Records, Mitchell’s next release will be a folk opera, set in a post-apocalyptic America, featuring amongst others, the wildly talented Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame. She showcased a number of the songs at the Luminaire, and it is shaping up to be astonishingly good. One song in particular, a parlour song sung by Persephone, delivered with all the trappings of vaudeville, saw Mitchell, in character, tease the audience, and was in equal measure both alluring and amusing. Claiming that she’d forgotten to bring her set list on stage, Mitchell threw the evening open to requests, and the audience were treated, at their wish, to a number of beautiful renditions. During one song, '1984', she exclaimed, "Who are you guys?! You know the words!" as a handful were mouthing along, only for the audience to open up, seemingly as one, and sing the rest of the song along with her. Clearly from her incredulous laugh, she was both touched and surprised at the extent of her popularity, but I can see it only as an inevitable sign of good things to come.

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Anais Mitchell - Luminaire, London, 21/1/2009

Anais Mitchell - Luminaire, London, 21/1/2009

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