Nanci Griffith’s Friday night performance at The Egg’s Lewis A. Swyer Theatre was all about quality, not quantity.
Her full set, including two-song encore, only lasted for an hour and 20 minutes. Although some may have been disappointed by this seemingly short set, no complaints could be made about the actual performance.
Every song Griffith and her band performed was a winner. She opened the evening extremely strongly with two of her best offerings, the melancholy “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and the classic and timely “From a Distance.”
The latter song set the tone for many of the evening’s later performances, with its message of peace taking center stage on other songs such as “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go,” which closed the set proper.
Although a sprained wrist prevented Griffith from playing guitar for most of the evening, her vocals were in fine form. With one of the most interesting voices in country music, Griffith crooned, cooed and even growled her way through the evening, with only a slight crack here and there.
Her band was more than up to the task of backing her vocals, providing the highs and lows each song required. “Beautiful,” a song Griffith dedicated to her late stepfather, gave the band a chance to show off with individual solos. Lead guitarist Thomm Jutz definitely took the cake here with his inventive classical guitar picking, with bassist Matt MacKenzie and drummer Pat McInerrney also doing a fine job.
The group’s skills gelled best on “Love at the Five and Dime,” arguably the evening’s highlight. An older song from 1986’s “Last of the True Believers” album, “Five and Dime” showcased a guitar-less Griffith giving her all on vocals, although she wasn’t too happy about that.
“This is a song that I miss picking the guitar on,” Griffith said almost wistfully before telling how she wrote the song in a pinch for a songwriting workshop at the Winnepeg Folk Festival in Canada. “At the time, I was extremely happy, and I didn’t have a thing to write about,” she said. She ended up pulling the song’s lyrics from a story she had written years before.
“Love Conquers All” was another highlight, one of the most upbeat and rocking tunes of the evening, featuring some sweet guitar licks from Jutz. Griffith, like many folk and country singers, spent almost as much time talking between songs as she did playing songs, relaying the stories behind her music. This song was apparently written about Griffith’s “addiction” to love, including her lifelong dream of being a guest star on the soap opera “All My Children.”
“When I Dream” was perhaps the most beautiful song the band played. Coming midway through the set in between two relatively upbeat numbers, the aforementioned “Beautiful” and “Listen to the Radio,” it showcased the band’s versatility with such sparse, simple instrumentation.
The intimate setting of The Egg was one of the major keys to the show’s success. Griffith’s blend of folk and country is best listened to in such a small setting with a small crowd of people, and this is exactly what the Swyer Theatre offered.
More from The Daily Gazette: