Photo of Natalie Merchant by Jacob Blickenstaff, courtesy of Nonesuch.
The last time Natalie Merchant was in St. Louis was in 2002. We were so happy to welcome her back to our city. Taking the stage in a poppy red dress and pink wrap, with gorgeous long white hair, Natalie Merchant was engaged body and voice in the music. It seemed as if she were painting the lyrics with her hands and casting spells with her fingertips.
As difficult as it is to believe, Natalie only had one rehearsal with our fine St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and that was the day of the show. The familiarity that they shared over both old and new songs was astounding, and one would think that they’d been touring together. At times, Merchant would turn her back to the audience and stand still at the edge of the stage and let the orchestra have center stage. It was well deserved.
The rest of the time, she reminded us that pleated dresses are for twirling. I knew her shoes were coming off as soon as she hit the stage. She danced with such delight, and in such a way that her body contributed to the lyrical content of the songs. It was an amazing visual and kept the audience entranced.
Some of the audience got a little too entranced, interrupting her as she was singing and causing a pause in the music and concert. After Bebe Rexha was hit in the face with a cell phone earlier this week while performing, a man tossing his necktie up on the stage and demanding Merchant’s attention mid-performance was alarming and completely off-putting. Do better, St. Louis.
We were treated to several songs from Merchant’s new album Keep Your Courage, including “Narcissus,” “Big Girls,” and “Sister Tilly,” the last song a note of gratitude to the women of her mother’s generation. The audience was as receptive to these as to her older songs. She did taunt us into dancing. “What does Thursday night energy look like? Letting me do all of the work?” She did get them out of their seats, ending the concert with “Carnival,” and reminded us that we are very lucky to have such a phenomenal orchestra.
There has to be a better word for her than a singer. Bard, troubadour, poet? Songstress? Enchantress. Something with a little more oomph to describe the spell that she cast on us that night.
Let’s not wait so long before you’re back with us, Ms. Merchant. | Melissa Cynova