Live Review: Patty Griffin at the Columbus Theatre
Monday, November 07, 2016
A cool fall evening brought award winning singer-songwriter Patty Griffin to Providence’s Columbus Theatre Saturday night. Playing to a near sell-out crowd, she clearly impressed those assembled, as she eased through an inspiring set of music spanning her 20+ year career.
New England Native
Originally from Maine, and a standout on the Boston folk scene in the early 1990’s, Griffin featured several from her 2015 album Servant of Love, including the title song, “250,000 Miles” and the roots rocker “Gunpowder.” She’s lived in Texas for the last two decades, and has become one of the leading ladies of the Roots/Americana genre.
Griffin established a mildly political tone for the evening, perhaps sensing some anxiety over the upcoming election. Other than imploring people to vote, she didn’t make too many overt political statements during the show. But her song selection made it pretty clear where she stands. Indeed, as a leading Americana artist, Griffin’s songs have a lot to say about the state of the union.
She opened her set alone with her guitar singing “Forgiveness.” The song begins “We are swimming with the snakes/At the bottom of the well,” not exactly an apolitical statement.
She was then joined on stage by David Pulkingham, her touring partner, and an exceptional guitar player. His accompaniment is particularly suited to Griffin’s unique vocal style, and his “dirty guitar” sound added atmosphere to tunes like “Gunpowder” and “Standing,” the latter, “the gospel according to Patty,” she noted. The song further defines the moment we in which we find ourselves. “Standing in the shadow of the hill/Feel the fear everywhere, hope it don’t get me killed.”
With nine original albums to her credit, including the Grammy winner for Best Gospel Album in 2010, Griffin has a lot to draw from. A show highlight was “Ohio,” (co-written with her “ex,” Robert Plant), a pure Americana song ostensibly about a strained relationship, but also a history lesson of escaping slavery across a river to freedom. And throw in a great guitar solo to boot.
“Faithful Son” also stood out, with Griffin showcasing her lyrical strength. The song was another from her 2011 release, American Kid, an album dedicated to her late father. Her humble lyrics tell a compelling story.
“Little children came and grew/Moved away and never knew
Who I was or who I am/Well, they never knew this lonely man”
Later in the set, Griffin sat down behind the keyboard for “Servant of Love,” and “Mother of God,” a “song about my life as a child in New England.” It was penetrating moment in the show - you could literally hear a pin drop in the crowded hall.
“Something as simple as boys and girls/Gets tossed all around and then lost in the world
Something as hard as a prayer on your back/Can wait a long time for an answer.”
One of her better-known songs and an audience favorite, “Rain,” came next. It was one of the few tunes played from early in her career, a highlight from her 2002 release 1,000 Kisses. It was followed by “Up to the Mountain,” a gospel number inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.
“No Bad News” followed, “a song about a crappy boyfriend,” noted the singer. It’s as close as she got to a “rocker” in her set, strumming through hurriedly on her acoustic. Next up, the main set closed with “Shine a Different Way,” a elegant song featuring Griffin on mandolin.
Her encore was a bit of a surprise – a 1920’s Mexican love song “Caminito De La Sierra,” sung completely in Spanish with mariachi inspired guitar work from David Pulkingham. An uplifting finale to an inspiring show.
Griffin is a gifted lyricist and passionate singer. She's reached the level of Americana royalty, and is a top-notch performer who has earned the respect of her peers. Those present at the Columbus Theatre were fortunate to experience the show Saturday night.
Up and coming singer-songwriter Joan Shelley opened the evening with an outstanding set of original music. The Louisville, KY artist who performed at the Newport Folk Festival last summer, sang several from her 2015 album Over and Even. The title track was a highlight and featured her warm vocals and precise accompaniment from No Quarter Records label-mate Nathan Salsburg. The album earned Shelley a 4 star review in Rolling Stone - she’s definitely an artist to watch with a promising future.
Ken Abrams reviews Roots, Rock and more for GoLocal. E-mail him here.
Related Slideshow: 2016 Newport Folk Festival - Sunday Highlights
Singer- Songwriter Ian Fitzgerald opened the festival backed by Smith and Weeden. (Photo: Rick Farrell)
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