“I’ve been touring forever. It’s nice to play my own songs,” Heather Woods Broderick remarks midway through her mesmerising set in Manchester’s Castle Hotel. It does seem that the Maine-born artist has concentrated on contributing to the success of close friends like Sharon Van Etten for much of the previous decade, but when records like the sublime Invitation come along there is no doubt that this focus should be redirected inwards on a more regular basis.
Invitation is a lush, multi-textured affair full of sweeping strings and organic, electronic tones adding depth to the more fragile acoustic timbre. This may have prompted consternation about how the architecture of these songs would be achieved on this cramped stage in Manchester’s northern quarter. There was certainly no need for any trepidation; opening with the gorgeous ‘A Stilling Wind’, Broderick creates a fluid acoustic tapestry for the tender ballad. The epic strings may be missing, but her two-man band contribute compelling musical seams on bass, synths and percussion to ensure that the beauty of the song is not suppressed.
The opening of the show concentrates on the 2019 record and ‘I Try’ follows. This time Heather moves behind the keys and it allows the attentive audience to appreciate the contribution of Dean Anshutz and Andrew Carlson. The former is a particularly magnetic performer on the drums, establishing subtle, jazzy textures on ‘Nightcrawler’ as Broderick’s Gibson SG adds the more rootsy inflections.
In these intimate surroundings the new material sounds exquisite, but Heather also takes this opportunity to explore some older tunes including ‘The Colours’ taken from her debut solo record From the Ground. The sparse fragility of this moment proves equally engrossing. We also get a rendition of new single ‘Hummingbird Skylight’ which is introduced as a cover. “Hummingbird Skylight was written by my partner and his band Tallest Poppy”, Broderick explains. “From my first listen I was drawn to the beautiful melody and repetitive nature of the original version. I reworked the song and gave it to my partner as his birthday gift.” It certainly changes the tone of the evening; a creeping electronic thrum hangs over the track and Heather’s vocals adopt a more haunting disposition.
There’s a cinematic quality to the instrumental ‘A Daydream’ which creates a smoky noir-esque atmosphere for ‘White Tail’ which follows. Chirping crickets compliment the organic nature of this introduction and Broderick’s luscious vocals and Dean Anschutz’ wonderfully imaginative percussion combine perfectly to generate the most compelling of moments in one of Manchester’s finest small venues. About the new material, Heather Woods Broderick has said “I think the personal upheaval which inspired these songs came more from the desire and struggle to connect and find a sense of purpose in a more stationary and simpler life,” One can hope that this more uncomplicated life continues because this evening has been a delightful treat.
Words & Images by Iain Fox