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Annie Keating – Bowery Electric, New York City: Live Review

At The Barrier favourite Annie Keating launches her Bristol County Tides album in style

Well – I have to say that it’s wonderful to back writing a review of a live performance again after all this time – even if the live performance in question took place 3,000 miles away, and I wasn’t actually there. But, as Annie Keating commented during one of her introductions during Sunday’s fantastic podcast from New York’s Bowery Electric, “Maybe we’re coming to the end… maybe we’re almost through this pandemic thing.” Let’s all sincerely hope so.

As At The Barrier reported in our recent review of Annie Keating’s wonderful new album Bristol County Tides, Annie had arranged a show to launch the album, and a wonderful event that show turned out to be. Flanked by most members of the tight band that played on the album – Teddy Kumpel on guitar, Steve Williams on drums, Todd Caldwell on organ and Chris Tarrow on pedal steel and slide guitar, plus Kate Steinburger on backing vocals, Annie revisited ten of the fifteen tracks that comprise Bristol County Tides, whilst regaling the assembled, scattered audience with tales and anecdotes of her pandemic year in Bristol County, Massachusetts, during which the album was inspired and created.

How I would have loved to have been one of the lucky ones inside Bowery Electric on Sunday. Located in the East Village, just a block away from the iconic site of CBGB and handy for McSorley’s Old Ale House (a favourite watering hole of mine, if it’s still there) it looks like a fantastic, intimate venue – the perfect place to enjoy Annie’s excellent tunes. The lack of an audience was, at first, strange and disconcerting, as much to Annie and the band as to those of us glued to our computers at home, but the band certainly came easily to terms with the lack of audience presence and quickly got down to playing a marvelously entertaining set.

In our review of Bristol County Tides, At The Barrier noted the quality of Annie’s band, commenting that “Whether the the song is a Stones-like strut or a soft, tender ballad, the instrumentation is just right and each of the musicians excels when called upon.” Well – having just watched the band perform in the (virtual) flesh, I can certainly stand by that comment. Todd’s organ swirls and Chris’s pedal steel embellishments were divine and Teddy’s guitar playing was sublime. I have seldom seen a guitarist play such perfect, fluid lines so effortlessly – we’re talking Richard Thompson-like playing here!

The set kicked off with Third Street, the album’s gritty opening track. Todd’s organ and Chris’s slide guitar were well to the front and I wrote in my notes: “They’re really rocking.” And they were. The album’s sultry single, Kindred Spirits followed, laced with some delicious guitar from Teddy. After expressing her yearning desire to once again play to a room filled with people, Annie launched into Marigold, a song that seems to channel both Lucinda Williams and Warren Zevon.

A couple of my favourites from Bristol County Tides followed. Annie apologised for reading the lyrics to High Tide from a prompt sheet but – as she pointed out – “15 new songs are a lot to remember” and, as I heartily understand, “I’m not as young as I used to be!” The version of Half Mast – my absolute favourite cut from the album – was awesome, with Chris’s pedal steel sending chills down my spine. Annie’s introductory dialogue on the subject of uncertainty set the scene perfectly for Nobody Knows, a song in which the lyric “Nothing is for sure, nothing’s guaranteed, life’s a ride into uncertainty” will continue to resonate long after the nightmare of the pandemic has receded into a distant memory.

Sunday evening was hot and humid in the part of the UK where I live, so the hot, swampy, Blue Moon Tide was the perfect song for the occasion and Song for a Friend was delicious – the Velvet Underground sound was captured wonderfully and Chris excelled once more with yet another wonderful pedal steel solo. Teddy picked up his melodica for the hilarious Hank’s Saloon; the band were really cooking by this stage of the evening, and I was particularly struck by how happy Annie looked as she delivered this, the evening’s penultimate song.

The closing number was, of course, Goodbye – the satisfying song of sad parting and hope for the future that also ends Bristol County Tides. A great evening was had by all – in New York and all around the world!

Throughout our long period of our enforced absence from live shows I’ve been in two minds about the merits of podcasts as a substitute for live performance. There have undoubtedly been some good shows that have gone some way to compensating for our inability to gather together at a venue, but, perhaps too often, podcast shows have been just a little bit too sterile. By choosing to launch Bristol County Tides from the stage of an actual venue, and by their absorption in the delivery of the songs, Annie and the band almost achieved the impossible feat of taking the theatre into the viewers’ living rooms. Sunday’s show was a “live” event in just about every sense of the word!

And the good news is: If you missed the show on Sunday, it’s still there on YouTube for you to watch in its entirety – something I strongly suggest you do, as soon as you can. And, once you’ve seen the band and listened to these marvelous songs, I have no doubt that you’ll want to seek out Bristol County Tides for yourself – a hunt that will bear fruit when you visit Annie’s website via the link at the bottom of this page.

Watch the Bristol County Tides album launch podcast here:

Annie Keating Online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube

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