What an energizing concert! I had never seen Anais
(pronounced, a NAY us) Mitchell before and it was indeed a pleasure to be in her
midst. It astounds me how some folks that are tiny in stature can have
such immense presence. Ms. Mitchell is a petite little fireball, confident as
Annie Oakley, taking aim with her guitar.
She introduced her band as “The Young Man Band”. I wanted to know why it was called the Young Man Band, because there were two
beautiful young ladies in it. But I didn't get a chance to ask that question
after the show. Her website states that the name was
“Inspired by American manhood, British ballads and my father.”
She wore a short black skirt, black tights, a red camisole
- and a little cream colored blouse, formerly owned by her late Great Aunt
Harriet. Aunt Harriet was a dedicated peace activist until she was very
elderly. Anais told us an Aunt Harriet anecdote. Later, she tossed the blouse
and looked fetching and pretty as a summer day in the camisole, even though it was a chilly night in late autumn. She has a passionate, little girl voice that
reminded me a little of Rickie Lee Jones. She didn't use a pick and I wondered if
her fingers hurt.
The Young Man Band glowed as they delivered the Mennonite hymn,
“I Bind My Heart This Tide”, with pristine harmony. It was lovely, with
crossovers of chord and discord. The line, “Every day a dyin’ day,” stood out. Then she sang these clever lyrics;
a live wire, I’m a short wave radio, Do you copy?”
Ben Davis reverberated with guitar, xylophone and drums,
simultaneously! Quite a feat. He also sang harmony. Keyboardist, Rachel Ries,
who opened the show, had a wonderful aura about her, like polished
marble. While singing harmony, she held her left hand up and open, somewhat
like Mary in Michelangelo’s Pieta. It was as if the notes rested in that gesture.
Noah Hahn, Anais’s husband, stood in the background, tall, lean, and handsome
as a Rohan horseman. He played a fretless, electric bass. She said he defretted
it himself with a clam knife.
Anais’s songs were straightforward and either sad or fun. If her
voice was a reed instrument it would be an oboe, while Rachel’s was more of a
clarinet. Their harmonies were lovely in the song, “O My
Anais often moves while she sings, shaking the guitar as if to
get more notes out of it, like musical salt from a shaker. All I could
think of while she sang was “she’s-so-original-she’s-so-original-she’s-so-original.”
In fact, I wrote it in capital letters in my notebook.
“Shepherd” was a ballad loosely based on her father’s
book, “The Souls of Lambs”. (That's an ominous foreshadowing!) She sang eager as a meercat. She
said she first played it with Ben Davis, in the CuddleMagic Band. “Wilderland”
was sad and haunting. So was “Young Man in America,” and “Ships”.
She performed a couple of songs from her rock opera,
Hadestown, based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The songs from this are
beyond excellent. If this was the only thing she ever wrote it could stand on
its own as her magnum opus. The original recordings feature the talents of Bon
Iver singer Justin Vernon, and Ani DiFranco, among others.
There was subtle beauty in her enthusiastic and free style. I
am usually reluctant to compare anyone to Joni Mitchell because no one is as
good as Joni Mitchell. But Anais Mitchell's (hmm, maybe the same last name is no
coincidence!) lyrics were as unusual as Joni Mitchell’s, and her melodies and
chords were similarly as unpredictable. I saw her pour her all into each song, overflowing with warmth and
prettiness. Her Young Man Band was wonderful too. I see her growing to
international stature as an artist in years to come. Check out her website at www.anaismitchell.com.
Press poloroid photo from anaismitchell.com
For music lovers visiting Portland, Maine, I highly recommend
One Longfellow Square ~ "Portland's Premier Arts Venue"
Check them out at onelongfellowsquare.com.