Gretchen Peters has become one of the most respected country singer-songwriters over the last two decades. She was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 2014 and has written for artists including George Strait, Bryan Adams and Faith Hill just to name a few. After the release of her last album, The Essential Gretchen Peters, in 2016, she took some time out from music this year before returning to the UK for a sold-out show as part of the London Folk & Roots Festival.
Peters came on to rapturous applause from the audience and from the off it was clear that she was overwhelmed by the fact that people had come out to see her perform (and when the crowd sang Happy Birthday to her halfway through the show!). She opened her set with When All You Got Is A Hammer, an atmospheric song which showed off her impressive storytelling and rich, smoky vocal tone. From there she moved into the yearning Hello Cruel World, conjuring up some utterly beautiful imagery and maintaining the emotion of the song but without being over the top.
Throughout the set Peters performed a variety of songs from across her career, as well as mixing in some of the new music she’s been working on for her next album. Amongst the highlights were the melancholy The Matador, the intense foreboding of Black Ribbons, the Southern rock guitars of Woman On The Wheel and the down-and-dirty Wichita. The common thread running through it all was the utterly stunning imagery – the description of a fallen lover’s body ‘like rotten fruit’ in Blackbirds will stick with me for a long time – and film-like storytelling in the lyrics.
However my favourite moments were when Peters took to the stage alone, allowing her voice to shine through. In particular two of her new songs, Truck Stop Angel and The Lowlands, really emphasised this. Both had a strong sense of isolation and loneliness, with delicate yet soaring piano melodies, and characters you felt you really knew by the end of the song (something Peters did throughout the show). I also adored the simple yet beautiful On A Bus To St Cloud, which had the audience absolutely entranced and shedding more than a few tears, and the longing nostalgia of Five Minutes made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Peters finished the main set with the poignant Idlewild, which really showed off her skill as a songwriter and ability to capture both the big and small picture, before returning to the stage after a thunderous standing ovation for the encore. She included a cover of Rodney Crowell’s I Ain’t Living Long Like This, a slight departure from much of her set with its uptempo piano intro (and which rapidly descended into a riff-off between her guitarist Connor and piano player – and husband – Barry). Then after the band left the stage Peters performed an acoustic solo version of There Is Love, which had the audience in complete silence and was just utterly gorgeous.
Overall I loved Peters’ show and would highly recommend that you go and see her if you get the chance. Her voice, which ran the gamut from sweet to gravelly but always showed off her control and emotion, and her ability to create incredibly well-realised characters and places you know instantly show why she’s simply one of the best singer-songwriters around right now. She’s coming back to the UK next summer in support of her new album, and I personally cannot wait to see her again. It was a truly wonderful and moving experience.
Set list: 1. When All You Got Is A Hammer 2. Hello Cruel World 3. The Matador 4. Black Ribbons 5. The Lowlands 6. Blackbirds 7. When You Love Someone 8. Where Did You Go 9. Wichita 10. Truck Stop Angel 11. Woman On The Wheel 12. On A Bus To St Cloud 13. Five Minutes 14. Idlewild 15. I Ain’t Living Long Like This (Rodney Crowell cover) 16. There Is Love Performance date: Tuesday 7th November 2017