Live Reviews

Be Good Tanyas @ Purcell Rooms, London

3 July 2005

Taking brief respite from another of her decorative fills, Trish Klein took a moment to add “I was thinking that if all those bands got together they could end world poverty”. In the aftermath of the official Greatest Ever Gig, there might be a few wary souls that ruefully conclude the same.

Roughly 20 hours and barely a mile away from the spectacle that was Sir Bob’s Live 8, Canada’s Be Good Tanyas, a girl-group trio specialising in the most delicate yet vigorous country to be heard in this uneven world, spend as much time reeling off a few ribald tales as they do in isolating the blue in bluegrass.

There’s the one about the sheriff in Arkensas who taught the girls how to make crystal meth (Sam Parton – “All the hillbillies take it”). There’s one of the new songs written for The Old Crow Medicine Show (“They’re kind of like our secret boyfriends.”). And there’s the stage moves that Snoop Dogg taught them (“He says a lot of things about his Mother, and gets the audience to say his name. We’re gonna try that.”).

That promise never materialises, much to the relief of the audience. Relief, because, this audience is old. Not just Punk Old (i.e. the kind of greying, bespectacled, black turtle necked old you find populous at an Elvis Costello gig). This is real old. There are members of this audience that haven’t seen the inside of a concert hall since Lonnie Donegan was banging out 16 Miles Of Cumberland Gap on his tea chest. If he wasn’t still breathing in the vapours after last night, even Paul McCartney might have put in an appearance.

The why and wherefore remains a mystery. For those yet to sample the symbiotic understanding that Sam Parton, Frazey Ford and Trish Klein possess, take it as read that the choice adjectives that spring most readily to mind are old standbys such as ‘fresh’ and ‘inspired’. Chances are taken. Formulas are challenged. Expectations exceeded.

The standard In My Time Of Dying, with which the girls begin this evening with, is given a reading somewhere between a recital of the Book Of Common Prayer and fearful submission to The Book Of The Damned. When Frazey’s plaintive murmur tells of Jesus making her dying bed, she doesn’t need the seismic pummel of John Bonham (on the Led Zeppelin version, natch) to convince that it might not be Jesus she’s surrendering to after all.

Naturally, those much-cherished songs from the Blue Horse album are called for (Sam again – “We’re so over those old songs”), and the girls coquettishly yield to demand. The Littlest Birds, Rain And Snow, and The Coo Coo Bird twinkle intangibly, but not before a host of new material is given a public airing.

Nameless as yet they may be (at least to me), but the new record, promised at the beginning of the New Year, just may be something of a departure. One song, bolstered by the gentle wave-breaking sticks of support band Tin Cup‘s Mark Beattie, offers glimpses of Tex-Mex. Another hints at the pop expansiveness of Stevie Nicks / Lindsey Buckingham era Fleetwood Mac. But just as spellbinding is the reading of fellow Canadian Neil Young‘s I Believe In You. With just subtle re-emphasis, it fits perfectly into the Be Good songbook.

One thing’s for certain. If, as Frazey sang on Ship Out On The Sea, the earth is indeed a warm thing, this audience whether in advanced years or otherwise, felt much closer to it than they did the previous evening.

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Be Good Tanyas @ Purcell Rooms, London

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