Review: Emmylou Harris, Vector Arena

By Graham Reid

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Emmylou Harris played an intimate set at Vector Arena on Sunday night. Photo/supplied
Emmylou Harris played an intimate set at Vector Arena on Sunday night. Photo/supplied

There was something missing at this Emmylou Harris concert: That lone voice from the darkness which plaintively cries out "we love you".

Not that this voice - often heard at such shows - was required, because the love and respect in the air for Harris was almost palpable from the rapturous reception when she walked on, through pin-drop attention in the moving ballads to the standing ovation at the end.

As Tami Neilson and Dianne Swann of the Bads both noted in their opening sets, her songs are part of people's autobiographies and the 65-year old Harris - delivering a 100 minute set which touched all parts of her long career - discreetly acknowledged that in a performance which was sensitive, good humoured, sometimes self-effacing and always engaging.

With her Red Dirt Boys offering an object lesson in how to play tasteful, subtle, rocking or close harmony country of many genres - bluegrass on Get Up John, Tex-Mex for Hello Stranger, honky tonk on Together Again, straight-ahead Nashville on Two More Bottles of Wine, barnstorming country rock on her Born to Run - Harris touched the mythic (O Evangeline, Along the Great Divide), the narrative (Red Dirt Girl which she admitted she made up because her childhood had been happy), the transcendent (her tribute to the late Kate McGarrigle on the sublime Darlin' Kate), truckstop rock (Luxury Liner), and the political (My Name is Emmett Till, made more poignant by her comments about Obama back in the White House which has echoes in the lyrics).

The spirit of Gram Parsons was evoked in her lovely reminiscence The Road ("you put me on that path, how could I refuse?") and his Sin City, however her distinctively hoarse melodic whisper meant many of the lyrics in her tribute to Canadian folkies Ian and Sylvia in Spanish is the Loving Tongue were lost. A small complaint.

After that standing ovation they returned for Townes Van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty and her signature song Boulder to Birmingham.

With the cavernous Vector Arena downsized into something more intimate, excellent opening acts by Tami Neilson (channeling Patsy Cline in her sublime Cry Myself to Sleep), the country-rocking Bads and the dark furies of Bernie Griffin and the Grifters, this was a night when country music of all persuasions was spotlighted. And given the love.

Who: Emmylou Harris and Her Red Dirt Boys
Where: Vector Arena
When: Sunday, November 18

- NZ Herald

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