With the last tour cut short due to illness, there’s reassurance when Nanci half walks, half dances onto the stage with a twinkle in her eye. As she opens with the John Prine classic, Speed Of The Sound of Loneliness, backed by her support band The Kennedys and sympathetic percussion from Pat McInerney there’s no question that her vocals are back to full strength, carrying with them the trademark warmness and childlike quality that Nanci has become known for. True to expectations the night becomes filled with classic songs and humorous banter, making it clear why Nanci has reached such acclaim as a folk-country (or as she prefers to call it, Folkabilly) star.
Unsurprisingly there’s a focus on the new album (Intersection), and Bethlehem Steel is granted extra meaning with it’s back story, and added weight with Nanci downing her guitar to push out the vocals with passion. Meanwhile, Never Going Back brings her away from the love songs which dominate her sets, into a more forceful kickback against her native Texas. Nevertheless, not one to turn her back on her routes, The Flyer and Trouble in the Fields both get an airing, their touching takes on love and life bringing breadth to the set.
Whilst the likes of Love at the Five and Dime and From a Distance are notable omissions from the back catalogue, it seems as though the set has been adapted so that the guitar melodies are in most part carried by Pete Kennedy, suggesting Nanci’s recent hand surgery may have left her without the strength for the intricate playing these number require. Nevertheless, with this comes the addition of less aired tracks, including Last of The True Believers number One of These Days and Kate Wolf’s Across The Great Divide.
Whilst there’s no Springsteen style 3 hour rendition, it’s a succinct evening, showcasing Nanci’s ability to pay tribute to the artists she loves, with her cover of Dee Moeller’s Tequila After Midnight and her tribute to Loretta Lynn in Listen To The Radio, whilst also flagging her ability to encapsulate history into song. Her Civil Liberties Award winning number, The Loving Kind, pays homage to the first couple to make a stand against inter-racial marriage and it feels even more poignant with the current debates over legalising same sex marriage in the UK.
As Hell No – I’m Not Alright brings a close to the night, it might be an angry protest picked up by the Occupy movement, but as ‘the clap brothers’ join the stage, complete with bandanna and glasses, it becomes filled with camaraderie, fusing anger with humour and joining the crowd and artists as one. Illness and the ever looming Olympics might have put some people off the trek to London for Nanci’s return, but for those who did make the trip it is undoubtedly worth the effort.