Review: Anaïs Mitchell And Sam Airey – The Ruby Lounge, Manchester

It’s been a long time coming, but this bank holiday, Anaïs Mitchell finally headed into Manchester for her first gig in this world-famous musical town. She was accompanied by Sam Airey, an artist who is quickly making a name for himself in these parts and is surely soon to be known on a national level as well.

Sam kicked off the evening with a beautiful collection of tracks from his recently -released EP A Marker And A Map, along with previous single The Blackout and a fantastic new track The Heaviest Crown. It’s always interesting to see a support artist take to the stage with a couple of curious and inquisitive viewers knocking around, but by by the time the first song is over, everybody else in the room has headed over to see who the great voice is coming from. This was certainly the case with Sam and comes as no surprise having seen him play on numerous occasions, and blow the crowd, including one Anaïs Mitchell, away.

Mitchell then took to the stage alongside fellow musicians The Young Man Band, including the wonderful Rachel Ries, and a rather eccentric banjo-wielding drummer who looked more like a member of MGMT than a folk backing-band! It was a shy start from Anaïs, kicking off with Ships and Dyin Day from her recently-released album Young Man In America, but with each applause, Mitchell and the band seemed to grow in confidence.

What’s more, Mitchell’s songs and performances have a quality that many can only strive for. The stories that she tells so eloquently and beautifully capture the crowd in a way that is rarely seen. They can place the listener right into the context of the tale, whether it be politically-orientated, personal, or thought-provoking, in an ever-changing world which she is maturely observant of. Tracks such as Young Man In America, Why We Build The Wall and A Hymn For The Exiled are not just made up tales, they are emotional songs to serve a purpose and account the problems that both she and us may face.

Having grown in confidence throughout the evening, Mitchell was wonderfully interactive with the crowd, taking on requests during a stunning solo section, chatting about the Jubilee to a rather sceptical set of ‘royalists’ (one person shouting ‘Off With Her Head!’) and explaining the story behind her gorgeous but heartbreaking track Shepherd, (it is based upon a novel that her father wrote when Anaïs and her family grew up on a sheep farm in Vermont).

An encore of Why We Build The Wall allowed for a mass singalong at the Ruby Lounge this evening, and a cry for even more led to a rare second encore as Anaïs played a solo version of I Raise My Cup To Him from the sensational Hadestown.

On a personal level, this was always going to be an enchanting show, having waited a long time to see Anaïs Mitchell. But even for those with no high-expectations, it was an incredibly fine set and one that confirms her position as one of the finest song writers around.