Live In Concert

Natalie Merchant

Elektra Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Natalie Merchant unquestionably has an alluring vocal style. Just when you think you're not going to be sucked into listening to another song featuring her - be it from her days fronting 10,000 Maniacs or her solo career - eventually you find yourself halfway through the song before you know what hit you.

After two successful solo efforts, Merchant decided to test the waters of the stage with Live In Concert, a set recorded in June 1999 at the Neil Simon Theatre. And while Merchant continues to enchant on some of these tracks, the key word here is boredom. There is hardly any time in the course of these 11 tracks where the energy level raises high enough to pull the album out of the doldrums.

In one sense, I have to question why Merchant chose now to do a live disc. It's not often that you see an artist go out after only two studio albums and try to fill a live set. With the inclusion of covers of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Neil Young's "After The Gold Rush," one can immediately see the danger of going out without enough original material. (In all fairness, these two covers are excellent efforts.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But Merchant shows that she can pull at the heartstrings of the listener with amazing agility. Take the track "Beloved Wife," a song lamenting the loss of one's partner after 50 years of marriage. (I remember my grandfather being lost after my grandmother's death, so I can easily understand the emotions that Merchant draws from here.) And the more I listened to it, the more I liked "The Gulf Of Araby" for the same reasons; Merchant is able to take this song and spin a tale you can almost see acted out before your eyes.

The two big hits of Merchant's solo career, "Carnival" and "Wonder," are here in all their splendor - and, surprisingly, this is where the most of the show's energy is focused. If anything, these songs are the ones that didn't necessarily need the spotlight on them as brightly, only because they were so well-known. If anything, Merchant should have tried to get people into the other songs that might not have rolled off the tongues of the audience as easily.

This is the major problem I have with Live In Concert. The bulk of the performance is far too melancholy-sounding - and I recognize that Merchant is not necessarily the most happy-go-lucky songwriter on the planet. But tracks like "Dust Bowl," "Ophelia" and "Seven Years" almost sound like you've walked into a musical wake, and you're merely there to pay your respects.

Some might say this is just the nature of Merchant's music. I don't quite buy that. I saw Cowboy Junkies in concert way back in 1990, and while their songs were slow and pain-filled, they were able to put on a show that made you genuinely interested and excited about their music. Somehow, Merchant hasn't been able to tap that vein, and it's truly her loss.

If you've nearly worn out your copies of Tigerlily and Ophelia, then Live In Concert will be a nice addition to your collection. If you just know Merchant from what you hear on the radio, this is not required owning - but if you do pick it up, approach it with caution.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.