Call it gothic folk if you like, but Marissa Nadler’s witches brew is a concoction with some unexpected secret ingredients. Appearing at The Echo on Wednesday evening (9pm set time; it was dub night later on), Nadler put forth a surprisingly multi-dimensional performance. Most notable was the collective guitar work in the room, especially that of Milky Burgess, whose slide solos lent a new personality to Nadler’s subtler studio palette.
Strangers, Nadler’s latest LP off of Sacred Bones Records, is as moody as it is dreamy; these aren’t saccharine songs at all. They are mostly dark, deeply personal, and they will haunt you. Each number connects the listener to finite people or incidents from her own life. Take for example the voyeuristic “Shadow Show Diane,” which Nadler penned after seeing her neighbor through a next door window. “Then I saw the kind of show /I could never tell my man,” she intimates. Or in “Dead City Emily,” off of 2014’s July, come the straightforward words, “I was coming apart those days.”
Live, however, these confessionals took on vibrant new life. It’s as if a cauldron swallowed then spit out Victoria Legrand’s voice box, the Thelma & Louise soundtrack, a boatload of dark crystals, and Eat a Peach. There was a totally unexpected southern twang mixed in with the ethereal and brooding soundscapes. Burgess’ soulful and melodic solos lit up “Hungry Is the Ghost,” and “Was It A Dream,” the latter of which was introduced as “a song about doing bad things.”
“All the Colours of the Dark” was more restrained, but still glistened with shimmery Knopfler-esque bits that ultimately belied the listless and detached refrain, “All the colours of the dark, of all the colours of the heart…You had left your mark, change change, I got married on a Sunday afternoon.”
A well-placed cover of Neil Young’s vicious “Cortez the Killer” came late in the set. The communal shredding of guitars appropriately conveyed the genocidal tone of the 1975 classic. However, when Nadler admitted to taking out her contacts before the show as a mechanism to deal with her stage fright, all were reminded of the quieter genesis of the newly boisterous pieces.
“Firecrackers” closed the set. The performance provided a “the pen is mightier than the sword” moment as Marissa Nadler stood alone on stage with her 12-string acoustic. With her four bandmates and all electric axes now retired, all that was left were her vocals, and the bare bones of one hell of a cutting song.
Like much of her oeuvre, it was as sentimental as it was fatalistic: “July 4th of last year we spilled all the blood. How’d you spend your summer days? I know better now I don’t call you up at night, cause baby you’re a ghost and I have changed.”
Dead City Emily
Hungry Is the Ghost
Nothing Feels the Same
Was It A Dream
All the Colours of the Dark
Shadow Show Diane
Cortez the Killer
Katie I Know