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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the News Center Maine TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: October 24, 2014

Natalie Merchant brought an enchanting show to the State Theatre Thursday

Written by: Aimsel Ponti

Natalie Merchant performed in front of a sold-out crowd Thursday night at Portland’s State Theatre. The show was originally scheduled for July 18 but illness forced Merchant to postpone several dates.

Judging by the audience’s response, the show was certainly worth the wait.

Merchant, 50, is touring behind her latest self-titled record and was accompanied by longtime guitarist Gabriel Gordon, along with a pianist and accordionist Uri Sharon and stand-up bass player Jesse Murphy. Merchant was the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs before going solo in the mid ’90s.

The show started with Merchant solo at the grand piano singing “Thick As Thieves” from her “Ophelia” record followed by the hit “Wonder” from her 1995 debut solo album “Tigerlily.” Both were met with warm applause. Her band mates then took to the stage for “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” from “Leave Your Sleep.”

She tried to coax a sing-along to “Weeping Pilgrim” but there weren’t many who seemed to know the song, a traditional song arranged by Merchant on her “The House Carpenter’s Daughter” record. But Merchant was up to the challenge and with a tongue-in-cheek plea — “Show me how you do it in Maine” — she fed the audience lyrics and many people joined in.

Merchant offered a wide range of emotion on stage during the almost two-and-a-half hour show. She went from nearly crying during “Life is Sweet” to barely being able to make it through “Tell Yourself” due to fits of contagious laughter.

But one thing remained steadfast throughout the show, and that was Merchant’s signature voice. It shone through particularly brightly with the “Tigerlily” track “River.” The song is about the death of actor River Phoenix: “Give his mother and father peace/your vulture’s candor/your casual slander/will murder his memory/he’s gone, we know/And it’s nothing but a tragedy.”

The show was at its hour-and-a half mark by the time Merchant played anything from her newest record, but she made good with “Maggie Said”: “Holding back, what did I get for all of that? What did it count for? Tell me that. Nothing, nothing, oh nothing, that’s a fact.”

The show took on a second life with several encores, starting with a few whimsical bars from “I’d Do Anything” from the musical “Oliver!” Merchant took a surprise turn into an anthemic cover than had the entire audience singing at the top of its lungs. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” was the song, perfect for a blustery Maine night, and it brought the house down.

Merchant’s “Texas” and “Ladybird,” from the new record, sounded sensational live and exemplified her knack for penning thought-provoking lyrics within the context of satisfying tunes.

The night ended on two upbeat notes with the 10,000 Maniacs song “These are Days” and Merchant’s “Kind and Generous.” Both had the crowd on their feet and served as bookend to an enchanting night of music.

WHAT: Natalie Merchant
WHERE: State Theatre, Portland
WHEN: Oct. 23

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