The lights dimmed, curtains parted and a spellbinding “My Songbird” wafted through billowy, bluish clouds as if an ethereal creature in flight. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Emmylou Harris stood center stage at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pa., a near-silhouette, surrounded by what seemed to be three shadows – Daniel Lanois on guitar, Darryl Johnson on bass and Brady Blade on drums.
First, though a little context: On September 26th, Emmylou released the Lanois-produced Wrecking Ball, an atmospheric album that departed from the country-folk terrain she’d mined for the previous quarter century. That’s a bit of an over-simplification, I know, but prior to Wrecking Ball she mixed and matched songs and genres within the construct of the traditional country-folk sound. At a show we saw in 1991, for instance, she was joined on stage by Chet Atkins, performed a bluegrass breakdown, and also sang Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town” and Dion’s “Abraham, Martin & John.” Wrecking Ball, however, and the tour(s) that followed swapped the country overtones for a thick and rich gumbo that was equal parts noir, impressionistic and heartfelt.
Here’s “Deeper Well” from a few weeks later:
And “Where Will I Be” –
Two decades on and my memories of the show are not so good, unfortunately. “Prayer in Open D,” my favorite song of hers, came early and was stunning.
And her take on Steve Earle’s “Goodbye” was even more masterful on stage than on album.
At the show’s end, Diane and I both walking out of the theatre open-jawed, blown away by what we’d witnessed.
One additional, non-music memory: Although we had excellent seats, as the picture of my ticket stub shows, we were not front row, but fourth. (It goes to the wacky way the Keswick names its rows.) In the row before us: a guy cradling a green knapsack in his lap that had two super-large microphones sticking out from either side. The result: a bootleg of the show is out there, somewhere, making the rounds…
The setlist: My Songbird; Prayer in Open D; Waterfall; Where Will I Be; Orphan Girl; Wrecking Ball; Pancho & Lefty; Goin’ Back to Harlan; Deeper Well; Calling My Children Home; Green Pastures; One of These Days; Every Grain of Sand; Sweet Old World; Blackhawk; Big Chief/Indian Red; Goodbye; Making Believe; The Maker; All My Tears; How Far Am I From Canaan; You Don’t Miss Your Water