Amanda Shires - St Bonaventure's, Bristol
There’s something homely about a gig at St Bonaventure’s Parish Social Club. The Bristol venue has a great track record for attracting up and coming Americana artists, and the relaxed, appreciative vibe and excellent sound means that they keep returning. Amanda Shires was herself here as recently as late last year.
First things first - if you’ve not picked up last year’s Down Fell The Doves just grab a copy now. It’s fantastic. Luckily for tonight’s assembled throng, Shires’ set list is chock full of tracks from said album. Shires music doesn’t feel as though it will lend itself to a small acoustic show very well; there’s depth and a wealth of instrumentation on her records, but the three mic set up and cluttered stage show that she won’t be scrimping on the scope. When she appears with husband Jason Isbell and his Spanish guitar, and double bass wielding Stephanie Dickenson in tow you know that that they’re going to do a pretty good job at creating the sound. And they do more than that during the two sets. It’s a brilliant show.
All the bases get covered over the 90 minutes, from the a cappella opening song; through the guitar-led first set; the violin-led second set, and a beautiful duet between husband and wife (Warren Zevon’s ‘Mutineer’) to close things out. The Texan singer is like a slightly tipsy pixie throughout. Her long, sometimes confusing but always amusing song introductions (“I don't know how true it is, ‘cause your whole country is haunted...” for psycho killer ballad ‘Deep Dark Below’) are endearingly sweet. She introduces ‘Bulletproof’, a song that demonstrates her ability to write perfect melodies and hooks, with a rambling story about a fan presenting her with a bag of tiger claws, furs, and other stuff, after a gig. It's that kind of vibe.
Throughout the evening the interaction between Shires and her husband is a balance of tender and jokey. Isbell’s one liners verge on the awful ("They're not payin’ for comedy!") and Shires keeps him in his place (“I thought I told you to wait in the car...” or “My grandpa said either you’re right or you’re happy.”) but the looks the pair exchange on the wonderful ‘Drop And Lift’ are intimate and show the true depth of feeling.
St Bons is a venue you almost always come away from with a cherished memory and Amanda Shires is no different. She’s a hugely talented singer-songwriter. Just hearing ‘Look Like A Bird’ and ‘Shake The Walls’ stripped of their studio production proves as much, perfectly complimented by Isbell’s gorgeous Spanish guitar playing. Quite the feast of top notch Americana.