Published Aug 08, 2016Hitting the stage early, then playing for almost an hour and a half straight, Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler's performance lived up to her dark, divine recordings.
Flanked by Earth bassist Don McGreevy and Master Musicians of Bukkake guitarist Milky Burgess, her rendition of "Dead City Emily" was even more haunting than it was on her sixth full-length and Sacred Bones debut July, her ghostly vibrato wafting sweet sighs into the night air.
Kira Clark and Keith McGraw, from doom-pop openers Muscle and Marrow, came back out after that first number to respectively add backing vocals and drums to "Strangers" and "Hungry Is the Ghost," from Nadler's seventh record Strangers, from which most of the set would be drawn. McGraw's role was subdued, keeping the sombre tempos without hurrying them, but Clark fully committed to her part, helping to make them both set highlights while Burgess, who came alive for his first epic slide guitar solo of the evening on "Strangers," showcased the chemistry he and Nadler have developed since recording the 2016 album together.
For all of the assumed confidence that Nadler's soul-searching lyrics may indicate, her scattered, rambling banter betrayed her neuroses, yet her self-awareness made each time she spoke feel potent. She pointed out that for the first ten years of being onstage, the talking situation was gruesome and brutal, but since she realized audiences don't bite, she has embraced it for what it is. So it was in those moments that the crowd received a real sense of her personality.
Nadler jokingly referred to "Nothing Feels the Same" as another "cheerful" song she wrote, noted how "Drive" was more fun to sing on some nights than others due to its exposing, vulnerable lyrics and gleefully promised more Milky soloing before "Was It a Dream?" Given the seriousness of her music, usually going deep in her own psyche but turning her gaze towards the apocalypse on her latest album, one wouldn't expect her to smile as easily and often as she did.
Her greatest banter moment came before a cover of Neil Young's classic "Cortez the Killer," when she went on a lengthy tangent about how she loves Canadian music, particularly what she referred to as the holy trinity of Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. She had previously covered "Cortez the Killer" for a bonus EP included with her 2007 album Songs III: Bird on the Water, while Cohen's recently published letter to his dying muse Marianne Ihlen had touched her heart. Later, before "Waking," she noted how Mitchell's use of open tunings had influenced her acoustic guitar work.
Throughout the evening, despite moments of doubt amidst mix problems in "Katie I Know," Nadler did her Mitchell influence proud, although it must be said that Burgess stole some of the spotlight on "Was It a Dream?" and "Cortez the Killer" when he let loose solos of Robin Trower proportion. Typically, though, Burgess acted as Nadler's perfect foil, complementing her cerebral picking and adding a rootsy drawl to the odd chorus. McGraw stayed behind the kit for most of their set, although he quietly mouthed the words to himself as he played, while McGreevy kept it soft and sweet on bass, producing big sound from a seated position.
Left alone to perform a few songs solo, Nadler's majesty was unquestionable. She admitted that her voice cracked during the "Katie I Know" fiasco, but it sounded as rich and gorgeous as ever during the heart-wrenching medley of "Firecrackers," "Desire" and, ultimately, "Diamond Heart" from Songs III. She is a true talent, and her unadorned humility only makes her more compelling.