LIVE: Natalie Merchant – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 05/11/2023

LIVE: Natalie Merchant – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 05/11/2023

That Natalie Merchant is performing on this stage tonight is a measure of her tremendous spirit and determination. Back in early 2020 and following emergency surgery for a degenerative spinal disease, Merchant found that she could no longer sing. A few months later she was bitten by a tick and started to develop sepsis. Hospitalisation ensued but helped greatly by her sheer strength of character,  her health recovered and she eventually regained her singing voice.

These experiences clearly informed the material that comprises the American singer and songwriter’s eighth studio album, Keep The Courage, which was released earlier this year. The record’s title also lends its name to Natalie Merchant’s current world tour, one that began in her home state of New York back in April and now finds itself on the UK leg of that run. Merchant’s huge personal resilience is underlined even further by the fact that it is now nine years since she undertook a tour that lasted any longer than three weeks. 

And no less than Michael Stipe had it just about right. Having heard Keep The Courage, the R.E.M. frontman spoke of “a brilliant and long-awaited return of Natalie Merchant’s unmistakeable voice.”  He could just as easily have been talking about her being back performing in concert. From the opening lines of ‘Lulu’ to the final strains of a genuinely moving ‘The End’ – a passionate anthem for displaced people and during which she held aloft a peace sign – there was no disputing that this remarkable voice still belongs to Natalie Merchant. It is rich, burnished, and imbued with an additional grainy texture that can only come from age and lived experience. 

Natalie Merchant may well have bookended this brilliant performance with two songs from her eponymous 2014 album but in between these two staging posts she traversed the length and breadth of her solo career. Whilst her voice was the star of the show it would surely not have been elevated to such exceptional heights this evening without the impeccable platform provided by her band. Nine in total, they include a string quartet and the additional vocals of her fellow American singer, Mayteana Morales. The latter provides the perfect foil to Merchant’s distinctive sound, probably no more so than on a blistering ‘Narcissus’ , immediately followed by ‘Ladybird’ where Morales adds some delightful “do-do-dos” which are reminiscent of Thunderthighs’ lasting contribution to Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side.’

There is also a warm acknowledgment by Natalie Merchant to this great city as she sings acapella a couple of lines from Glaswegian musician Dick Gaughan’s ‘World Turned Upside Down’, a respectful nod she repeats during ‘Eye of the Storm’ when highlighting its evident Celtic connection.

The concert stretches to almost three hours in length, albeit bisected by a short intermission, the duration of which reflects Natalie Merchant’s energy, enthusiasm, and sheer delight that she is once more back out on the road. Given recent events in her life, the very fact that she is there at all is firm testament to her personal courage.

Photos: Simon Godley

Back to top