Show Review: Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller at Zellerbach Hall, 4/5/10

by Jason LeRoy on April 6, 2010

Patty Griffin performing in Seattle on April 1. Photo by Kirk Stauffer.

Heaven and Hell. Sin and redemption. The pointlessness of our earthly pursuits. Clinging desperately to faith in something good, despite the soul-crushing emptiness of life in a broken world. These were some of the themes of last night’s concert. And by Patty Griffin standards, it was a fairly lighthearted evening.

Griffin is currently touring behind Downtown Church, a side-project of sorts that she recorded for EMI (her home label is ATO Records). According to Griffin, she was approached by an executive at EMI to see if she’d ever considered recording a gospel album. “Not really,” she said last night. “I’m a lapsed Catholic at best.”

This statement rang slightly false to me as a rabid longtime Griffin fan. Themes of religion and Christian spirituality have been a constant presence in her lyrics ever since her debut LP, Living With Ghosts (1996). But if Griffin has somehow been an unwitting conduit for such powerful messages throughout her career, Downtown Church represents the first time she has embraced them explicitly. This was accomplished with the invaluable assistance of veteran Americana singer/songwriter/musician Buddy Miller, who produced Church and suggested approximately 500 different songs (by Griffin’s count) for the project.

Miller was on hand last night to play an opening set of his own solo material, as well as the duet material he’s recorded with his exquisitely talented singer/songwriter wife, Julie Miller (who sadly wasn’t in attendance). He played several tracks from their wonderful 2009 album, Written in Chalk, and received harmony assistance from Griffin on a number of songs (“Isn’t this kinda humiliating for you?” he joked self-deprecatingly to Griffin, who suggested he see a therapist).

One highlight was the rollicking “Gasoline & Matches,” which was featured on an episode of True Blood (described by Miller, who admitted he’d never seen it, as “a wonderful TV movie,” before facetiously noting that he doesn’t “condone the vampire lifestyle”). He closed with a raw, riveting solo performance of his wife’s endlessly covered gospel classic, “All My Tears.”

After a brief intermission, Griffin took the stage with her excellent four-piece band (including Miller). While she opened with the haunting and evocative “Standing” from Impossible Dream (and originally from her unreleased label-limbo album, Silver Bell), it soon became clear that she’d be drawing her material primarily from Downtown Church. Not that I’m complaining. It was just as breathtakingly beautiful as her own original material, but with an unusual levity in some of the uptempo numbers that is generally absent at her shows.

Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin. Photo by Kirk Stauffer.

It was definitely the most playful I’ve ever seen her. Maybe it’s the material, maybe it’s having her good friend Miller on tour with her; whatever it is, Griffin was in uncommonly cheerful spirits. In addition to smiling and dancing her way through old-fashioned gospel stompers like “I Smell A Rat” and “If I Had My Way,” she also made an extremely rare sojourn into bawdy territory with a new song she wrote about her baby-making grandparents (“How many people do you know how write sexy songs about their grandparents?” she joked; admittedly, she’s the first I can think of).

But the evening was still jam-packed with the kinds of startlingly poignant soul-folk on which she’s made her name. From “Coming Home To Me” (from Church), to her old classic “Mary,” to the closing performance of “Up To The Mountain” (rapidly becoming one of her signature songs, having been covered by the likes of Kelly Clarkson and even Susan Boyle), I felt like my heart was about to just give out at several points throughout the evening. Patty Griffin is like the living embodiment of that plastic bag from American Beauty. And she’s playing at the Fillmore in San Francisco on Wednesday, April 7, so if you missed this show, you’ve got a second chance.

Setlist:

Standing

Move Up

Little Fire

If I Had My Way

Heavenly Day

Wade In The Water

Death’s Got A Warrant

Coming Home To Me

Love Throw A Line

Never Grow Old

Get Ready Marie

Mary

Waiting For My Child

The Strange Man

I’m A Believer (Waylon Jennings cover)

House Of Gold

I Smell A Rat

We Shall All Be Reunited

[encore]

All Creatures Of Our God And King

Wrap It Up (Fabulous Thunderbirds cover)

Up To The Mountain

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kirk Stauffer April 24, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Thanks for using my photos and giving me credit.

Kirk

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