GRIFFITH - NATIONAL THEATRE - 10 MARCH 2010
NATIONAL THEATRE - ST KILDA
Griffith live at National Theatre - photo by Carol Taylor
clear if the ladies of the night accepted Seniors Cards in the red light
district of St Kilda.
They had plenty of competition on this cool autumnal evening at the majestic
The National is a grand old dame who may have frowned upon sinful gutter
crawlers taking up her arts patrons' parking spots.
But these Seniors were seeking a much different rhythm method where Viagra
was an optional extra.
They were drawn to the flickering flame of Texan born but latter day Tennessee
troubadour Nanci Griffith on her belated debut Australian tour.
It was not the flames of her tour manager Phil "Road Mangler"
Kaufman that once lit up Cap Rock near Joshua Tree when he ignited a cut-rate
cremation of Gram Parsons who died at 26 on September 19, 1973.
No that was then and this is now and the spritely septuagenarian, who
survived prostate cancer in 1996, was selling autographed copies of his
Concert For Mangler Desh benefit CD on the first landing.
That was the National's first landing - not the Neil Armstrong moon walk
eulogised in song by Phil's recently deceased mate John Stewart who first
kissed fame with The Kingston Trio.
There were no copies of tell-all Kaufman autobiography Road Mangler
Deluxe or the Johnny Knoxville Grand Theft Parsons movie DVD,
now available in local video stores.
But both Kaufman and employer sang the praises of young local support
act The Little Stevies, fresh from their Memphis tour.
With parking finally found, it was time for Griffith whose first gig down
under was way up north in sunshine at Thredbo at the CMC Rocks The Snowys
sporting facial dressing, limped on stage with guitarist Thomm Jutz -
also her producer - last seen here with Mary Gauthier.
It's not clear if the Louisiana born orphan was also beneficiary of a
forehead gash from Thomm like the Texan headliner.
But the wound, fresher than a Texas bluebonnet, was the visual and verbal
prop to punctuate tales of Griffith's travels and travails.
"You might be wondering why I'm wearing this bandage on my forehead
but we were out sightseeing yesterday and we stopped to look in a shop
window," Griffith said.
"I walked over to see what he was looking at and I didn't realise
there was a kerb there. It was a little change in the concrete - so the
concrete met my head. So much for the Southern Cross."
She kicked off with oft-recorded John Prine tune Speed Of The Sound
She also revealed how she recorded the Julie Gold song From A Distance
when no other artist was interested.
"It was a global anthem of peace and went worldwide," Nanci
"It was probably the strongest global anthem I heard in my life time
as a songwriter."
She prefaced Love Conquers All with satirical comments about TV
soapies Neighbours and Eastenders and American Idol
and George Dubya Bush before Across America.
by Carol Taylor
credited Elizabeth Cook for collaboration on Simple Life from
2004 album Hearts In Mind - not the song with same title she
wrote early in her career.
"Elizabeth Cook is a great writer, she wrote the title track
of her latest album Balls with an Australian writer (Melinda
Schneider) - some times it takes balls to be a woman.
She comes from the panhandle in Florida from a family of bootleggers.
One of them still is. This is a song about mothers. My mother passed
the day after I wrote this song. Elizabeth's mother passed last spring.
They're sitting up yonder, with a lot of women I know, at a table
drinking bootleg whiskey."
Homespun homilies were Griffith's strong suit - she introduced Love
At The 5 & Dime (a hit for Kathy Mattea) with a reference
to local Woolworths' signs.
And, of course,
the title track of her 19th album The Loving Kind also earned a
"This song is about a brilliant couple who should be American heroes
whom I didn't know about until I read about Mildred Loving's passing in
the New York Times," Nanci revealed.
"Why don't these two people have an American holiday of their very
own - what does Valentine's Day really mean? She was black and he was
white. They grew up together in the same neighbourhood in Virginia. They
went to church together on Sundays from the time they were children. They
sang on front porches together on Sunday afternoons. In 1958 they decided
to get married. In the state of Virginia it was illegal to get married.
They went to court and they won against the ban on inter-racial marriage
in America. Before she passed on, she said she hoped her case would be
a cornerstone for the future. She said she hoped the government would
get out of the loving business and especially the Loving's business."
There was no shortage of elongated entrees - a tribute to Gale Trippsmith
for Money Changes Everything from her new disc, Rick West for Trouble
In The Fields and Loretta Lynn for the inspiration for Listen To
The singer listed duet partners Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, Darius Rucker
and Emmylou Harris for equally memorable Gulf Coast Highway.
also praised Kate Wolf for Across The Borderline.
"This song is by my great friend Kate Wolf who passed in 1986,"
"This song carries on my life for her. The more songs they hear up
yonder at that table the more bootleg they're consuming."
The singer enlisted the support of the sisterhood for embryonic road song
"This is a mini-biography of Kate Wolf and my dear friend Rosalie
Sorrells who both left abusive husbands in the vehicle their abusive husbands
were stupid enough to purchase for them. If you need this vehicle the
keys are still in the ignition. Rosalie is still alive and singing like
a mockingbird. My road manager turns 75 this spring and Rosalie is well
beyond that in years and she still has the best legs in the business."
Griffith also praised Dee Moeller for reviving her songwriting after a
drought during the Bush era.
"When I was a teenage girl growing up in Austin, Texas, there was
one or two women songwriters who hung out with outlaws like Johnny Cash,
Kris Kristofferson and the whole gang. Her name is Dee Moeller. I would
drive for hours with my friends to see Dee Moeller.
She would take on a barroom full of cowboys, throwing up on one another
in there, just to hear her songs. Her songs were so perfect. Dee Moeller
is retired now - I called her up and asked her for a couple of songs.
It opened up my heart and opened up my mind and I started writing again.
I couldn't resist putting two songs that she sent me on my new record
- The Loving Kind. I really owe it to her that I got back to my
songwriting. This song is about a substance that is genetically banned
in the Griffith family due to the fact that my father and I almost went
to jail together in Mexico after having partaking this particular fluid
- Tequila After Midnight."
Jutz & Nanci Griffith - photo by Carol Taylor
At the 14-song
mark there was a brief pause before obligatory encore that featured folk
and rock classics.
"The godfather of American folk music and one of the greatest singer-songwriters
we've ever had in America and his name is Pete Seeger," Griffith
"He turned 90 this year and one of the most fantastic things about
the inauguration was this concert the day before all these people - from
Beyonce and Rhiannon to U2 and the Obamas - everyone had on overcoats,
caps, gloves and scarves. At the end of the concert they brought out the
90 year-old Pete Seeger to close up the show and he walked out in nothing
but a flannel shirt and a pair of blue jeans. I want to be that 90 year
old some day.
Every generation since this song was written in 1948 has adopted it as
their own. The lyrics never change and meaning never changes."
Like Viagara, it was optional for audience members to join in the choruses
and climaxes of If I Had A Hammer.
The singer punctuated her encore with a request before finishing with
Well Alright - her tribute to the late Buddy Holly, his band and
her former touring partners The Crickets.
On a sporting note, traffic soon returned to normal on the streets of
St Kilda with no sign of flannelled fools or a Bingle.
And the verdict - it was a tough night at the office for Griffith whose
wound may have destroyed her stage balance at times.
She drifted on and off her vocal mike - lyrics of some songs may have
been hard to discern for those not familiar with her deep catalogue.
Her sidekick Jutz played restrained guitar and was the silent butt of
flesh wound jokes and duetted on Gulf Coast Highway without threatening
to upstage Shotgun Willie or Rucker.
But the 56-year-old survivor of two major bouts with cancer was a true
trooper on memorable songs dating back to her Australian debut on our
High In The Saddle on RRR-FM in the eighties and David Heard's countrified
folk soirees on PBS-FM.
Review by David Dawson with photos by Carol Taylor
/ back to articles