Club Passim, Cambridge, MA
May 20, 2017
A few months ago, you saw my review of Mary’s latest studio album, Love & Gravity. As impressed as I was by that record, it was a real treat for me to get to hear her perform in concert. Originally known for her work as a member of the chamber pop group October Project, Mary’s solo work relies on the same powerful, soaring vocal abilities that brought her such early notoriety, but her solo style has perhaps a slightly stronger folk element. I can’t help being reminded of a folk-Americana CD I’m currently spinning in my car, the new one from Amilia K Spicer that I’ll be reviewing in the coming weeks, as they both share the same ethereal vocal element and some folk influence, while from there the two take their music in different directions with extraordinarily different voices.
On this night at Club Passim, Mary performed with cellist Monique Citro, whose contribution added warmth and depth to the songs in support of Mary’s singing and guitar-playing. Many in the crowd had seen Mary perform multiple times over the years, and during many songs there were several concert-goers mouthing along to the words. They were also aware of Mary’s penchant for between-song storytelling, typically related to the songs she was about to sing, and the combination of stories and songs rather quickly turned the concert ambiance into that of a roomful of friends… one of whom, of course, wielded her amazing voice.
Mary opened the evening with a couple October Project songs. First, “Take Me Down,” showcasing her powerful voice that cut through the warmth of the cello accompaniment, both blending well with her strumming guitar. But, of course, the focus of the evening was always on Mary’s amazing voice.
Next came an emotionally powerful rendition of “Return to Me.” And she followed that with a great rendition of “Wild is the Wind” – as she noted before the song, the Bowie version of the Nina Simone song.
Then she performed “Gravity (Move Mountains, Turn Rivers Around)” from her latest album, Love & Gravity, a song she penned for her husband. There’s a serious Irish folk song vibe to “Gravity,” and Mary, as expected, sang the heck out of it.
Almost every song stood out in its own way, though I’ll not touch upon all of them. “Song for the Sirens” featured some acoustic picking as an added dimension, while the strong vocals and warbles were genuinely spine-tinglingly beautiful. Mary’s rendition of “Both Sides Now” is both a truly original version, as it appears on Love & Gravity, while also feeling ever-faithful to the original; as exceptionally good as this song was on the recording, its live performance carries so much more emotion! And her performance of October Project’s big hit, “Bury My Lovely,” was both booming and catchy; it’s obvious why it was a hit.
Mary closed her set with a song she recorded for her album re-imagining of The Dark Side of the Moon, a rendition of “Brain Damage” that seemed as if Mary had blended her voice with Roger Waters’ – maybe proportionally 70/30 in favor of her voice. Such versatility. Such variety. And what a way to end a set!
The two-song encore opened with Mary’s “Going Home,” from the Gods and Generals soundtrack, a tune with a sweet melody, in many ways like a folk-song lullaby. And Mary closed the night with an opera aria from her folk-classical EP. Because she can. Or, rather, for those who speak “hashtag,” simply #BecauseMaryFahl.
In all, it was a tremendous, intimate night of soul-touching music and stories-among-friends from Mary Fahl, featuring her amazingly rich, powerful voice. I can see why so many in the audience return to see her again and again… and again. I look forward to her next visit to the area.
If you can possibly make it, you should get out to hear Mary perform in person. Per the tour date page on her website, Mary’s next performances will be Friday, July 14th in Northampton, MA and Saturday, July 15th in Saratoga Springs, NY. The other dates currently listed are Sellersville, PA on July 29th; Ann Arbor, MI on August 11th; Pittsburgh, PA on August 13th; Denver, CO on August 26th; New York on October 5th; Wilkes-Barre, PA on October 6th; Geneseo, NY on October 14th; Wilmington, DE on November 4th; and Old Saybrook, CT on January 27th, 2018. Again, check Mary’s website for additional information on those shows and for other dates as they’re added.