Iris DeMent
London, Queen Elizabeth Hall


Set List: The Way I Should / These Hills / Sweet is the Melody / You’ve Done Nothing Wrong / This Kind of Happy / I’ll Take My Sorrow Straight / Walkin’ Home / Fifty Miles of Elbow Room / Sweet Forgiveness / Hotter than Mojave in My Heart / Easy’s Gettin’ Harder Every Day / Let the Mystery Be / Letter to Mom / When My Mornin’ Comes Around / Keep Me God / (John Prine’s) Mexican Home / Quality Time / Mama’s Opry / I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted to This World / No Time to Cry / Wasteland of the Free / Our Town / Infamous Angel / My Life

Given the range of subcultural options these days it’s something of an achievement to be authentically unfashionable. Iris DeMent manages it effortlessly: she walks on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall clad in a green housedress and clumpy sandals, like a Kansas elementary school teacher ready to take assembly. And no, it’s not a designer schoolmarm-of-the-dustbowl-years look a la Gillian Welch, more 1990s chainstore shopper – not so much anti-fashion as oblivious to it. It’s the same when she sings. Iris DeMent has the purest country voice of any contemporary singer; there’s nothing mannered or deliberately retro about her singing, it’s just the sound of someone who grew up listening to old-school country who has never seen the necessity to sing any other way. Or at least not until recently. Last time here, DeMent played the Shepherd’s Bush Empire with a full band, seeming a little uncomfortable playing the game the major label way. This time she’s solo again and her performance, even in the antiseptic QEH, has the all intimacy she displayed on her first visit five years ago. There have been other changes along the way. Where before she chatted away happily to the crowd, tonight there’s hardly a word between songs. Throughout the set she alternates between acoustic guitar and piano and, while the crowd is in her pocket from the start, it takes a little while for the set to really get going. At times the apparent naïveté of her songs can – as with Nanci Griffith, the artist she most superficially resembles – become a little cloying. But with `Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day’, the real Iris DeMent comes through. It’s on songs like these-effortlessly moving tales of ordinary lives of quiet desperation that DeMent reveals herself to be a worthy successor to Merle Haggard as a poet of the common people. It’s a link that has been firmly forged by the artists themselves. Merle Haggard has recorded an epochal version of DeMent’s `No Time to Cry’ and the pair have often gigged together. Yet ironically, the one song they co-wrote, `This Kind Of Happy’, is the evening’s only real clunker.

But if the first half is a little low-key, the second is pure pleasure, as established favourites like `Let The Mystery Be’ and `Our Town’ alternate with protest songs from the heartland such as `Letter To Mom’ and the anti-Gulf War `Wasteland of the Free’ – a nice upending of Haggard’s `Okie from Muskogee’ – until finally she brings things to a close with a serene, stately rendition of a DeMent classic: `My Life’.


Charlotte Greig

Mojo Magazine article submitted by Peer Bataille from Utrecht (the Netherlands), thanks Peer!