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I appear to be working my way through the abundance of good Sheffield music venues simultaneously with Anaïs Mitchell, tonight's Memorial Hall concert being her third show in as many years at different locations and each time organised by the same promoters. Tonight however, was the first time I've seen Anaïs performing solo in Sheffield, her previous visits being with musical collaborators Michael Chorney at The Greystones a couple of years ago and then again with Jefferson Hamer at the Library Theatre last year, performing songs from their critically acclaimed Child Ballads album. Tonight was the turn of the mighty Memorial Hall within the even mightier Sheffield City Hall building to play host to the enigmatic singer/songwriter. The Library Theatre concert last year saw a blonde haired singer with a bump. Tonight, the blonde hair was replaced with a more natural cropped brunette and the bump, now renamed Ramona, was somewhere backstage with her dad.
Appearing with her trusted vintage sunburst Gibson Kalamazoo acoustic guitar, Anaïs was relaxed and at ease with her surroundings from the start, pleased with the fact that there's always a man on the front row who shouts 'whaaay', something that apparently doesn't happen in the States too often. Anaïs also took the 'City Hall' name quite literally by pointing out that a City Hall in America would not necessarily be equipped with a bar. No one volunteered to point out that this hall not only has a bar but has seen very little in the way of civic business over the years, but rather taking its rightful place as one of Sheffield's premiere music venues.
Starting her set with the atmospheric Cosmic American, the singer managed to put aside all the excitement of the previous week, namely her appearance at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards at the even mightier Royal Albert Hall with Jefferson Hamer, who not only between them performed a song from the Child Ballads collection, but also picked up the award for Best Traditional Song, which Anaïs pointed out has now been taken back to the States to its new home behind the Brooklyn bar where the 'Ballads' were first performed.
Tonight was all about putting everything into perspective and to re-visit some of the songs that may have been ignored of late, songs that first brought Anaïs Mitchell to our attention such as Santa Fe, Old Fashioned Hat and Shenandoah, despite the call for Mockingbird being put aside, the singer conceding that that particular song has been "slipped into the great beyond, where songs never get played again."
There was also all the goodies that are almost unimaginable to escape inclusion in Anaïs's set, Wilderland/Young Man in America and Shepherd for instance or at least two from her celebrated folk opera Hadestown, Why We Build the Wall and the gorgeous Wedding Song. Thankfully, a busy schedule and becoming a mother hasn’t got too much in the way of her song writing and tonight Anaïs performed one of her newest songs Now You Know, at the same time encouraging her Sheffield audience to join in the simple wordless refrain.
The opening act for tonight's concert was Philippe Bronchtein, aka 'Hip Hatchet', who joined Anaïs for her final song Dyin' Day, before she finally concluded the show with the award-winning and traditional Willie O Winsbury, which provided a fitting conclusion to yet another superb concert by one of America's most engaging singer/songwriters.