Concert Review: City Varieties, Leeds, U.K. 2/27/98
Country Music People Magazine
(April 1998 issue)

written by Al Moir
Submitted by Colin Thursby

This venue was scheduled to be the third leg of Iris DeMent’s recent UK tour on 5 February, but the singer was forced to cancel due to a chest infection. Disappointed fans were informed that every effort would be made to re-schedule the concert at the end of the tour. All credit to them: they turned out once again, on a pretty vile night, to all but fill the theatre.

All credit, too, to DeMent, for meeting the commitment, particularly as just two nights earlier she had cancelled her Cambridge gig due to the selfsame virus, and been advised by a doctor to return to the US immediately. However, it was apparent the lady was suffering.

Appearing solo, she opened with `The Way I Should’ and `These Hills’, and I began to wish I had stayed away – I had no desire to see or hear an artist for whom I have great affection and respect struggling to hit the notes and fighting to speak clearly. Iris showed tremendous determination, however, and managed to surmount the considerable difficulties to turn in a masterful performance. If her normally sweet voice was sometimes husky or rasping, it actually enhanced dark and brooding numbers like `Walking Home’, `Letter to Mom’ and the heartbreaking `No Time To Cry’.

Alternating between acoustic guitar and piano, her self-accompaniment was as basic as you could get but, for me, proved a perfect way in which to present her songs – which, for the most part, are stark and arresting. I was obviously not alone in my conviction, as attested to by the high level of applause accorded the singer whose lone figure, severely clad in simple black frock and sensible shoes, looked as exposed and melancholic in the centre of the large stage as many of her songs sounded.

Iris drew equally from her three albums, “Infamous Angel”, “My Life” and “The Way I Should”. In a straight ninety minute set, she delivered over 20 songs and earned herself a genuine encore. I suspect she was glad to have re-scheduled the date as she was due to fly to the States the next day, and the reception accorded her must have lifted her spirits and sent her home on a high.

Iris DeMent is a home-loving person who has never really clawed her way into the limelight. In fact, she is something of a reluctant performer, and admitted to being very homesick when I spoke to her at the end of the night. Part of my brief was to offer Iris the opportunity to grace the cover of CMP, an offer she declined. Ruefully, she admitted, “Of course, I’ll talk to you, Al, but I really don’t have much to say and I would hate to bore you. I haven’t written anything for a year and I have no immediate plans for a new album. I haven’t done much since we last met, and I’ve really not got that much planned for the near future. I’m trying to wind down on interviews and features and things like that because I haven’t got much new to say.”

Although disappointed, I found Iris so refreshingly honest that, despite her giving me her home ‘phone number with the offer to call should I really wish to pursue an interview, I wouldn’t dream of teasing information from a lady who clearly wishes to guard her privacy and feels she has nothing to add to her professional life story that she hasn’t already discussed. However, if Iris DeMent ever feels good and ready to be our cover artist, I’ll be right there!