If all attendees were taken by rapture, leaving Lisa Hannigan’s setlist as the sole remaining documentation of her show at Teragram Ballroom, there would be record of more than just words on a piece of paper.
When you peruse the song list, you find mini-samplings of her gentle prose. Interestingly, of the 19 songs played Wednesday night, 13 have one-word titles. When grouped together, some read like a zen poem. Take for example:
Lisa Hannigan presents as a mix of disparate elements. Though rather tall and distinguished, she sings breathy lyrics like an imp and moves fluidly from guitar to acoustic mandolin to ukulele to tabletop harmonium.
Her songs often tap into a naturalistic theme, from the pastoral to a noticeable propensity to refer specifically to water (“Undertow,” “We, The Drowned, “Ora”). She is swimming in currents, set adrift, or altogether perishing under water. You can almost feel the winds or smell the soil in her songs.
A few times during the performance, Hannigan’s vocals recalled some of her contemporaries. On “Lo,” a song from Hannigan’s recent album, At Swim, she sounded like a loop-less Emily Wells. During “Barton,” it was Chairlift’s front woman, Caroline Polachek. “We, The Drowned” could be Hannigan’s response some 14 years later to Sam Beam’s indelible The Creek Drank The Cradle.
The unifying characteristic of these songs is the ethereal. The cinematic rises and falls take place off towards the horizon, not right in your face. Even when electronic percussion was added to the mix, it sounded like it came muffled through the apartment wall, rather than from inside your living room.
Above all else, though, like a true Irish balladeer, Lisa Hannigan’s words carry her songs. The show was a veritable jewelry box of lyrical gems. From plays-on-words, “all the ladies call your name, brush your hair like it could be tamed,” to the vivid, “watching the snow falling down, watching the city lose color and sound,” her chosen words were evocative without fail.
On “Little Bird,” a line so simple painted an entire portrait: “You are lonely as a church.” “Flowers” was similarly economical, “come by with some flowers, and stay til they’re dead,” “Barton,” too, where each silo’d syllable stood alone like its own word: “I’ll be on my own awhile, smiling like a crocodile.”
Though there was a steady undercurrent of solemnity to the set, there were also glimpses of livelier craic. “Ora” had a little Irish folk ragtime bridge, the absolutely stunning “Lille” triangle trings, and “Knots” flirted with a swampy soul and Americana cocktail.
The final jam, “A Sail,” built to an unexpected Hannigan head thrash. Her thin, crown-set braid acted as a dam to the flood of the rest of her hair.
Prayer for the Dying
We, The Drowned