Amanda Shires Final Stretch For 2022 Tour
Amanda Shires is spreading her wings. Soaring to new heights with her newest album Take It Like A Man, her tour lands at the Old Rock House in St. Louis and Americana Highways was there.
A sold out show on a Wednesday night is amazing to consider given freezing temps in the Gateway City on November 16. The crowd was rewarded with an artist in high and jovial spirits.
With more than twenty shows in attendance since 2013 as reference points, Shires’ vocals soar a little higher and bolder and her stage presence and comfort have noticeably increased. In short, Shires has taken flight.
In the past decade, there have been many great members in Amanda Shires’ band. Guitarist Zach Setchfield has been a mainstay.
Arguably, this is Shires’ best band sound. Adding a keyboardist to the tour lineup, particularly with the caliber of George Laks from Lenny Kravitz’s band, doesn’t go unnoticed. The keys have really added to the sonic experience.
Previously, Shires added Michael Webb on keys for her ShoalsFest set in October 2021. Webb is a Nashville recording session workhorse. Among his credits are two Grammy-winning albums with Chris Stapleton. More recently he’s been in the touring band of Hank Williams Jr.
Comparatively, Shires’ sound has shifted away from the folk leanings on albums before 2018’s To The Sunset. So with that evolution, thankfully the touring budget allows for it to be represented on stage.
Joshua “Bosh” Rothman, from St. Louis, and bass player Jonathan Gray round out the band lineup.
From Amanda’s story telling during the show, Gray is a wilderness man. He has wrestled a bear cub and possibly the momma bear as well. His foraging skills, she says, could sustain her for an indeterminate period of time. Gray lives in North Carolina.
Shires teases all the band members during the set. This one about Gray is most memorable.
The first four songs on the set come from 2018’s To The Sunset (an earlier version of “Swimmer” also appears on 2011’s Carrying Lightning).
Starting out with “Break Out The Champagne” we have an upbeat song about a breakup to transition us into less happy songs about breakups and other life circumstances.
Sure enough, with pleasingly intermittent riffs,“White Feather” is next with a more somber setting. It starts with a mental image of a field in Ohio and changing into a scarecrow’s outfit to learn some of his secret songs. (“Outfit” is used intentionally. #IYKYK).
Musically this is lighter fare compared to Shires’ earlier work with murder ballads. It’s a catchy tune. (So are those murder ballads).
The slower tempo “Swimmer” follows. Setchfield’s guitar work plays a greater role on this song and has a twangy tilt which reappears throughout the set.
On “Parking Lot Pirouette” Shires switches from electric guitar strumming to the fiddle with her ascendant and mesmerizing vocals belted out to the crowd, and the bright notes of Laks’ key work complement and shine.
On the next section of the set we get a nearly complete performance of the eleven track album released in July. The tenth song “Everything Has It’s Time” is absent, otherwise the album is performed in the ordered sequence.
Starting with the ominous song “Hawk for the Dove” this is a prime example of Shires’ unique vocalized vibrato.
This is a song about some feathers getting seriously ruffled. The serious tone about serious trouble is reinforced with the deep beat of the drum mallets. Shires later in the song lays down on the fiddle strings and gets a rousing crowd reaction.
Next, the title song “Take It Like a Man” is a tale of two emotional states. One is of a strong and independent woman. The second is aching and vulnerable. The emotional kick comes from the fiddle solo and keys turned up reminiscent of songs by the Wallflowers. It provides quite the emotional punch with Shires’ vocal renderings.
More emotions come with “Empty Cups” – a lament about falling short in a relationship. The song begins with the chirp-like tap of the keys. The crowd provides hoots of approval afterward.
Setchfield switches to acoustic guitar for “Don’t Be Alarmed” a sad song wrapped around Shires’ emotive vocals:
Don’t be alarmed / I’ve been broken before / Don’t make excuses / As you walk out that door / Don’t say it’ll be all right / Don’t need to lesson in time / You won’t make it better / With those throw away lines
Thankfully, this is a listening room-style crowd in St. Louis, so the tender moments of Shires’ songcraft are appreciated.
Shires has not only earned respect with her solo career, she is a part of a band with her husband, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. The band has racked up four Grammys in recent years.
Shires’ tour of the Midsouth and Midwest coincides with the 400 Unit on a European tour. Her final three show dates for 2022 are November 18-20 in Madison, Des Moines and Omaha.
Back to the stage action, “Fault Lines” deeper piano notes bring a reminder of David Gray’s “This Year’s Love” and are accompanied by deeper guitar riffs by Setchfield.
After the song, Amanda Shires takes a moment to reflect on the late Billy Joe Shaver. She mentions him saying, “God loves you when you dance.”
Shires opened for Shaver in St. Louis at Off Broadway in August 2016. She joined his band as a fiddle player in her early 20s back in Texas and appears on Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver [released November 11], along with Steve Earl, Willie Nelson and many others. Nelson received a Grammy nomination earlier this month for his recording of the “Live Forever” song on the tribute.
While casting some doubt on her dancing ability, Shires was eager to proceed “before more sad songs.” She displayed a gracefullness in her movements on stage during “Here He Comes” – quite a departure in sound from her earlier catalogue with its bouncy playfulness.
The tempo slows with “Bad Behavior” – a song with a touch of soulfulness which is followed by a very soulful number, “Stupid Love” with great touches of piano and guitar delay.
Now we get to Setchfield at his most twangy with slide guitar on “Lonely At Night” and Laks’ jazz background lends well to his piano play accompanying Shires’ plaintive vocals. This brought some of the loudest cheers during the set.
”My Own Gallaxy” is marked by some electronic sounds on the keys which Laks makes with glissando movements. The sound is reminiscent of the Galaga video game. But perhaps this shouldn’t be mentioned since Shires recently bought a Ms. Pac-Man console for the tour. She needs no encouragement to buy another.
There’s a deep drum beat which dominates as Amanda Shires bows the fiddle. A guitar solo comes along from Setchfield and then a playful duel between fiddler and guitarist ensues.
Shires feigns an encore, directing band members to walk to the edge of stage left. She announces a need to step outside briefly. The band does an extended intro to “Like A Bird” from 2013’s Down Fell The Doves for Shires’ return wearing a set of raven wings.
A guitar solo and fiddle play weave. Each band member gets a brief solo deeper into the song, Bosh stands out with tapping the hi-hats and then tapping the cymbals stands for a percussive chirp. In the extended outro, Shires fiddle scratches like chattering grackles.
Adding this musical experience at Old Rock House to others, going on a decade, makes for quite an inspiration by personally witnessing an artist developing and earning her wings.