It’s starting to look like a career year for Amanda Shires. With her recently released To the Sunset gaining positive reviews (read our review of it here), she took the stage at Mercury Lounge shortly after 11PM Tuesday night to a packed house. I’ve been seeing shows at Mercury for about 10 years, and I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve seen that many people crowd the room for an 11PM set time on a weeknight.
To help bring her new album to life on the road, Shires enlisted another guitarist, Seth Plemmons, and renowned keyboardist Peter Levin (both are also featured on the album). The latter is especially significant—as Shires said on stage, she’s still in awe that he is on the album and joining them on the road (“If you don’t know him, just Google him,” she joked…I took Shires’ advice, and Levin’s track record is very impressive—along with a solo career as a keyboardist and composer, he’s worked with a who’s who of jazz musicians from Gil Evans and Jimmy Giuffre to Jaco Pastorius and Miles Davis).
Their presence was immediately felt in the opener, “When You’re Gone,” from Shires’ previous release, My Piece of Land. Along with the rich textures both Seth and Peter provided, Shires’ vocals were the focal point, pushing the melody during the chorus. With some Korg and Vox keys at his disposal, Levin started to turn heads on “My Love (The Storm),” but he really got things going on “Shake the Walls.” Following an impressive solo by guitarist Zach Setchfield (with some counterpoint by Shires on violin), Levin took the reins, bringing an electrifying sense of excitement that diverges from the mostly acoustic version on Carrying Lightning; Shires is no slouch on the violin either and had her own solo, ending the song with a definite exclamation point.
The bold rock and roll vibe of To the Sunset rendered itself throughout the rest of the set. “Eve’s Daughter” was even heavier than on record, with a great bass breakdown by Macey Taylor and another great solo by Levin that is absent from the record. “Wasted and Rollin’” featured more great licks full of soulful bends by Plemmons, while “Bulletproof” was full of tremolo’d guitars, with drummer Jerry Pentecost carrying the song on the toms and snare during the guitar solo.
There were other moments that perfectly contrasted the more up-tempo numbers. “Parking Lot Pirouette” began with an ethereal intro emphasized by the violin and keys and full of reverb drenched guitars. Shires again showed us her vocal prowess on the climatic choruses, clearly impressing the crowd. The first song of the encore was just Shires and Levin covering Jason Molina’s “Just Be Simple,” and showed a more delicate side of Shires.
The pinnacle of the night, however, was main set closer “Look Like a Bird.” The song itself is one of Shires’ best, but in this instance it showcased each individual’s talents. Pentecost began the song with some playful, laid back drums while Shires added some wistful violin. The sparseness of the verses (this time with Shires’ more serene vocal delivery) eventually led to furious solos by Setchfield and Plemmons, with Levin adding his own mark, his keys filled with a bit of echo and delay. Shires took her own solo, with the band crescendoing, only to have Taylor’s bass take the spotlight. To be blunt–it was something I wasn’t expecting, and my words can’t do it justice.
Hopefully, this show is only a hint of where Shires and her band can go. With their tour just beginning, it will be interesting to see how these songs evolve and progress from here. Shires is backed by some extraordinary musicians, but she captivated and charmed the crowd throughout. Find tour info here. http://amandashiresmusic.com/ Set list:
When You’re Gone
Break Out the Champagne
My Love (The Storm)
Shake the Walls
Leave It Alone
Parking Lot Pirouette
When It Dimmed
Wasted and Rollin
Look Like a Bird
Just Be Simple (Jason Molina)
Take on the Dark