Anais Mitchell concluded a run of UK dates in Oxford tonight, playing completely solo save for a brief appearance by support act Sharon Lewis for the encore performance of Dyin Day. In doing so she reduced what is usually a noisy pub venue to absolute and respectful silence as she worked through tracks from almost every one of her albums.
Opener Now You Know was the only as yet unreleased song on a set-list which read something like an Anais Mitchell greatest hits album, if such a thing were ever to be released. Mid way through it also included some requests, with shouts for Flowers, Tailor, Two Kids and Changer, all of which were granted to the delight of some pretty hard core fans (I met one guy who had seen her play over 30 times).
With just vocal and acoustic guitar many of her songs were capable of falling short of their recorded counterparts, but instead she was able to shed new light on old favourites. Why We Build The Wall, from her folk opera Hadestown, transformed into something rather more poetic and Wilderland was bolstered by howling accompaniment from the crowd. Of course, there were also some tracks which just begged to be played out solo and the heartbreaking Shepherd was as enthralling as ever in this format.
The reason Anais Mitchell can strip her songs back is that, at the heart, she has penned honest and thoughtful lyrics. These hold the power in her performance tonight, whether she is setting Syrian poet Noor al-Din Ba’aj’s words to music in Two Kids, or going slightly more off the wall with the likes of Cosmic American, she can lend herself to many different styles of performance just as she can collaborations, projects and ultimately recorded albums.