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Praying for “Rain” in St. Paul

Last night I went to see the modern folk artist Patty Griffin perform at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul. Patty is touring in support of her new “Children Running Through” compact disc; her stop in St. Paul appears to have been close to the start of her tour, which continues in Madison tonight and Chicago, Iowa City, and St. Louis later this week. Here is a good look at her March 16 Seattle show.
Patty is not exactly a cult item, but I only learned of her from comments on a local community radio station and from hearing her song “Rain” online on Boston University’s WUMB-FM folk oriented radio station. Patty has a growing, intensely loyal fan base, much of which seems to have learned about her from cover versions of songs such as “Let Him Fly” by the Dixie Chicks. She’s an artist’s artist. Even if you find the Dixie Chicks unlistenable on political grounds, you would find their version of “Let Him Fly” unlistenable on aesthetic grounds after hearing Griffin’s version. No comparison.
Griffin has a remarkable personal story and a striking voice as well as an impressive catalogue of her own compositions. “Rain” especially has struck a deep chord with fans like me. It’s a piercing lament that I think virtually everyone identifies with in some respect:

Sometimes a hurt is so deep deep deep
You think that you’re gonna drown
Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep
With all the rain falling down
Strange how hard it rains now.

Patty has assembled an excellent small group to support her instrumentally. While she capably holds down the rhythm guitar duties, she has stocked the group with an excellent lead guitarist and a powerful three-piece rhythm section including percussion and two basses (one stand-up, one electric).
She put on a terrific show last night. She opened the show with Sam Cooke’s “Get Yourself Another Fool” — a surprising choice that she absolutely nailed — and moved into her own songs with an emphasis on the new disc. She looked beautiful in person, wearing heels, a belted 1940′s style dress and flaming red hair styled to match. The little lady has a big voice. She sounded great and looked like she could have played the femme fatale in a film noir classic.
After every song she performed in her set last night, one of the women sitting in the balcony insistently demanded “Rain.” I felt a little guilty because I had the same thought after every song. I badly wanted to hear Patty peform “Rain.” I felt that the insistent lady might have been channelling my thoughts. The Fitzgerald Theater is an extraordinarily intimate performance space; no one in the theater could miss the lady’s call after every song. She hardly needed to raise her voice to be heard. Well into the set, the woman’s voice cried out from the balcony, “I’m not leaving ’til you play ‘Rain.’” Patty acknowledged the voice at that point, saying that it sounded like a cat’s — a friendly cat’s.
When Patty came out for her encore, “Rain” was the first number she performed. Patty looked up into the balcony as she sang the song. What a delightful artist. What a great song. All I can say is that it was worth waiting for.
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