In the current climate, it seemed suitable that American singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s performance at Kings Place in London was heavily politically charged. Sandwiched between two touching tributes to Leonard Cohen (Famous Blue Raincoat, and Suzanne for the encore), following his sad passing last week, Mitchell began the evening with an earnest plea – ‘tell me one good thing about my country” – and wound through a set that barely touched on the volume of gems in her back catalogue. A handful of songs from her impressive Hadestown project (now a successful off-Broadway theatre show) left the audience yelling out requests for more, and whizzed through a career that has seen her produce 5 studio albums, collaborating with an endless list of names along the way.
A particularly special moment saw Mitchell introduce a gorgeous song, Roll Away, written for an album curated by Martin Green (‘Flit’) in which he invited numerous songwriters to pen the refugee experience. Roll Away was written about Green’s grandfather’s escape from Vienna during the Second World War, and doubtless mine were not the only eyes in the room to turn misty.
For a set that could so easily have been sombre, it is testament to Mitchell’s truth, raw fragility and warmth as a performer that the evening ended feeling like a beautiful experience for all. In a hall custom built for heart-stopping acoustics – by which she was evidently excited – her voice and her guitar were the only two instruments creating such deeply poignant moments in which every single song felt so deeply personal, both to her and to a captivated audience.
lPrior to the encore, while tuning her guitar to perform the now iconic Why We Build The Wall, she giggled. “I wrote this ten years ago. Any resemblance to current president-elects is merely coincidental,” she laughed. “This song is about the Lord of the Underworld…in a post-apocalyptic society”. The room and Mitchell burst into fits of laughter.
There should be no underestimating Anaïs Mitchell’s importance as both a folk artist and a relevant contemporary voice, up there with the likes of Billy Bragg. This evening she demonstrated that sure, the world could be going to hell, but as long as there’s music…