Sunday, September 16, 2007

Iris Dement in Columbus

A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of a conversation on Strat, I asked if anyone knew what Iris DeMent was up to. Daniel forwarded Iris' touring schedule, and lo and behold, she had an upcoming date in Columbus. So last night I was fortunate to see Iris perform (unlike the last time she came to Columbus, when I found out about it so late that the show was sold out). The venue was the auditorium of the Fawcett Center here at OSU, which held perhaps 400 people, and it was packed full. My friend, Lynn, and I were able to sit in the front row, which was quite nice.

The last time I saw Iris (which was an unbelievable 9 fucking years ago!), she was touring solo. This time around, she had John Prine's bass player, Dave Jacques, with her. While he was clearly a very competent bass player I can't honestly say he added much to the show, however.

Iris' "The Way I Should" was a very significant song in my life. As I wrestled years ago with coming out of the closet, I kept coming back to Bruce's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" (and its lyrics about secrets you can't face that weigh you down) and this song of Iris', with the lyrics "if each life is but a grain of sand, I'm tellin' you man, this grain of sand is *mine*... I live just the way I want to, and that's the way I should." It just made so much sense.

And so I was so happy when she opened the show with it.

It was a wonderful show, and she actually played some new songs (well, new since the last time I saw her 9 yrs ago, maybe she wrote them 8 yrs ago... or maybe this past year). Each of them was moving. One she wrote about her mother (who she said was 89 today), and how her mother always spoke the truth. Another had me nearly in tears, about a brother she lost when she was about 4, and how that was the night "I learned not to pray / because God's gonna do what he wants anyway" (or something close to that). There was another new one that she said was about an anniversary (perhaps a 3-yr anniversary), that focused on images of her man doing different things, ending with the line, "I think this love's going to last".

Two things I didn't quite like about the show: many (most) of the songs, esp. the ones she played on guitar, were slowed down considerably. Secondly, she 'dylanized' most of her old songs, singing around the melody, changing the phrasing, singing lower instead of higher, etc. so at times, the songs were barely recognizable. I don't know if she did this because she can't hit some of the high notes anymore, and this is her way of covering for that, or if it's because she's sung these so many times, she needed (for herself) to find some way of making them different or fresh. At times it was very disappointing, as on "Sweet Is the Melody" -- one of the most beautiful songs about songwriting ever written -- where the sweet melody was largely demolished.

She didn't play any of her songs that were politically or socially oriented, (apart from the original gospel song, "He Reached Down" she wrote for her last album Lifeline, the one about the good Samaritan, which was gratifying to hear). I found it a bit odd she shied away from the social commentary, because in the current climate, those songs probably would've gone over very well.
Instead, many of the songs seem to focus on her mother, and on loss. All in all, as I think about it, it was a pretty bleak show... "Easy's getting harder every day" (certainly one of the highlights as performed last night) has never sounded so depressing.

"When My Morning Comes Around" (perhaps my favorite Iris song) opened the 2-song encore, and was majestic as always, injecting a bit of optimism into the show. And she ended the night with a beautiful rendition of "Our Town".

I hope she's finally past her writer's block and is able to put out a new album sometime soon.