Catie Curtis with Donna Dean – April 26,2002 – The Borderline – London
By Ellen Rawson
There have been times in the past when Catie Curtis has seemed nervous when she performs. Tonight was not one of those evenings. She was into her show right away; for a woman who had taken the train all the way from Glasgow to London that day, she displayed an incredible amount of energy and simply seemed happy to be there.
With long-time musical partner Jimmy Ryan accompanying her on left-handed mandolin (acoustic and electric) and guitar, she started off by playing music from her most recent CD, Your Shirt Looks Good on Me. Although the rhythm sounded a little off here and there on their second song, the album’s title track, Curtis smiled a lot. There wasn’t any hesitancy nor shyness. After that song, she took some time to talk to the audience. Pointing out the sheep on her t-shirt, she announced that it was sheep night at the Borderline, what with her shirt and her opening act,
Donna Dean, hailing from New Zealand, along with seeing a lot of sheep out of the train window during the five-hour ride to London. She quickly pointed out the mystery of the additional microphone on stage. It was reserved for Jen Todd, who had flown in from Seattle (taking a break from her usual work with Laura Love?s band) to ?hang out for a weekend in London.? At various times, Todd would climb onstage from the audience to sing with Curtis.
The songs from the new album are not necessarily the best examples of Curtis’ song-writing skills. However, something about her live arrangements and intimate relationship with the audience brought them to life, particularly on “Love Takes the Best of You”, a song about adoption. Curtis has a way of sort of occasionally speaking while she sings. She’s definitely singing, but it can sound as if she’s speaking the lines from time to time, simply for
emphasis. She also can add a certain lilt to her voice to emphasize important words, such as on
“Falling Silent in the Dark,” an older song requested from one woman to another. “I don’t remember their names,” she admitted with a laugh, but she played it anyway and mentioned how it had been requested via e-mail.
Her apparent honesty while talking to the audience is another aspect of her live show that helps bring her songs to life. She introduced a new song inspired by John Lennon’s “Imagine.” With everything that has happened in the world during the past year, she’s had a hard time listening to that song “without thinking? um ? that he’s naïve,” she admitted with a grin. The audience laughed in response. “But he wasn’t (naïve) he was cynical. He must have written it as a prayer for himself. So here’s my prayer for myself,” she said before launching into lyrics about how her narrator cannot use her imagination anymore. “We take care of ourselves while the rest are weeping,” she confesses. “When I close my eyes and try to see all the people living in this world in peace, all I see is what’s in front of me.” It’s a sober reminder of what we do see in the media or on our streets on a daily basis, but it does offer hope.
She also had fun trying to involve the audience in more light-hearted elements of the show. On the very next song, “Kiss That Counted,” she took her time explaining the sing-along section. She finally advised everyone to follow Jimmy and Jen. “They’ll help you out,” she said with a laugh. Indeed they did. Todd counted with her fingers high in the air to let everyone know when to come in. It was a very up moment, particularly after the previous “heavy” number.
Curtis didn’t play a lot of older songs during the evening. This tour really was meant to promote the new album, but during the encore, she asked what she should play next. A number of people called out for “Magnolia Street.” Curtis nodded. “I heard that one, anything else?” She seemed determined to please her audience, sometimes admitting that she really didn’t remember some of her oldest songs that well. However, she indeed did tackle three older songs for the encore, “Magnolia Street,” “Walk Away,” and “Soulfully.” She did have problems with the words on “Walk Away.” “I’m gonna really try to nail it. I haven’t played it in a while,” she warned everyone ahead of time. They didn’t seem to mind. They were willing to feed her lines and laughed with her when it didn’t go quite right. “That’s supposed to rhyme,” she explained, laughing.
The audience laughed with her. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t always perfect. She played what they wanted to hear, and they appreciated her efforts. It was obvious that Curtis was just as happy with them as they were with her. “This has just been so fun! she exclaimed at the end of the show. If nothing else, it was nice to see Curtis enjoying just being herself while she further endeared herself to her fans.
Opening for Curtis was New Zealand native Donna Dean. At first, it was difficult to tell she was from New Zealand. Her first two songs were country western, and her voice had a decidedly strong twang to it. It wasn’t until she spoke that her native accent was obvious. However, she has a Nashville connection. She recorded an album there last year that will be released in the UK shortly. One song from the new CD, Pictures, heads more towards folk/singer-songwriter territory than country. It felt a little more accessible and just “realer” than her other numbers when she sang, “and nothing else comes close to the pictures in my head.” Her other numbers, however, were country or country rock, bringing across images of old-fashioned Texas honky tonks.