Kathleen Edwards - Manchester Ruby Lounge

Two things. One: you don’t fuck with Kathleen Edwards. Two: you don’t fuck with Kathleen Edwards. Bar a few stripped-down dates with paramour Bon Iver last October, this tour, in support of fourth album Voyageur, is her first in four years and the faithful have clearly been climbing up the barmaid’s apron. They get short shrift. By the time this compelling performance ends with a bounding run through Big Star’s ‘September Gurls’, a couple of hundred hardcore have voiced palpable love. And to her credit, the leading lady is all charm and humilty. But the fuckwits get both barrels. An exquisitely rendered ‘Mercury’ elevates the encores and Edwards pauses to manage the unexpected accompaniment: “Are you the guy who’s been coming every night and singling along really loud and out of tune?” (Yes.) Prior to ‘House Full of Empty Rooms’, she offers a wry but pained recounting of her last night in the home she thought she and her husband would share forever. It’s a tale as compelling as anything she sings all night: it meets with a “Get on with it!” from the back. (“Well I would do if you’d fucking let me.” Ouch.) And a lesser gal might have folded when a group stood stage right share “a private joke” at some length and volume all over another intro.

But Edwards is nobody’s fool and she’s certainly no whimpering girly girl. Apologising for the plaid shirt (“There’s only one way to make plaid sexy and that’s to wear nothing underneath...”), she sets about her fiery back catalogue, driven by a band who know how to pummel (a blistering ‘In State’ and a rendition of ‘Back To Me’ that meets itself on the way back) as well as they know how to support and keep the delicate balladry of ‘Pink Champagne’ afloat.

But most notable tonight is the life this accomplished five piece (lead guitarist Gord Tough in especially inspired form) breathe into her most recent work. Voyageur is compelling but stark, a work whose monochrome focus asks much of even the devotee. Tonight it starts to make all kinda sense and the likes of ‘A Soft Place To Fall’ and ‘Side Car’ come alive in ways the album could only hint at. But hold your breath for the oldies. From debut Failer, Edwards reworks its undeniable high spots. The band converge on a rampant ‘Six O’Clock News’, a solo ‘Hockey Skates’ silences the room and then there’s ‘Mercury’, that desperately sharp portrait of small town heartache. Others may point to a languid reading of ‘Asking For Flowers’, with its echoes of Jackson Browne, and an incendiary, epic ‘Goodnight, California’ in which Edwards switches to violin and Tough plays that solo. And they’d have a point.

But in an evening in which an uncommonly lengthy set is dominated by genuinely stirring band interplay, it’s the smaller, quieter moments that resonate. Those and the leading lady’s immaculate way with a put-down. Note to audiences everywhere: show some fucking respect, eh ?

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