St. Paul was buzzing on Monday night in anticipation of Amanda Shires’ return to St. Paul. There was a line around the corner as I walked up to Amsterdam Bar & Hall just before doors opened. Seeing fans so eager to get into a Monday night show is always a good sign – especially when they are friendly and ready to soak in the music.
Honey Harper opened the show with a mix of new country themes with an old country sound. Band leader William Fussell appeared onstage in a dark cowboy outfit, complete with a black hat and fringed shirt. On either side was a bandmate dressed in all white. It felt like he was with angels.
Once they began to sing a three-part harmony together it was clear that they might actually be angels. Their voices sounded beautiful together. Fussell’s vocals were a bit more gritty and twangy while the other two were more light and smooth. They blended in a really refreshing way.
Their set was brief but impactful. There was a lot of heart in their material, and personal moments were under the microscope lyrically. “Something Relative” was the most memorable to me. The song is a delicate plea to a friend who was lost to suicide. You could hear a pin drop in the room as they played. The whistling solo was something so beautiful I still get chills thinking about it. The crowd must have felt the same way because they were cheering so loudly that the band had to wait until it was quiet to finish the song.
Not every moment was introspective, though. The evening was kept light by songs that would best be heard on the open road with friends and a destination. They polished their set off with a cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days”. Honey Harper was a great choice to start off the night. I’ll be watching what comes next from them!
Amanda and her band entered the stage to a dark room as Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” wrapped up over the sound system. Cohen’s voice is familiar and friendly, yet menacing. It matched the lyrical energy of her first song of the night “Break Out The Champagne” from 2018’s To The Sunset – yet it sounded more celebratory.
“Talkin’ between bathroom stalls
Kelly said the world would end tonight
That we’d be ashes in apocalyptic light
I said “Break out the champagne
If we won’t be seein’ tomorrow
Let’s get on with the shitshow
Let’s get on with the show”
She switched between guitar and fiddle throughout the night while her four-piece band followed her lead. The set glided on a mix of dark and light. There was an epically deep and dark fiddle solo that flowed into a stunning performance of “Parking Lot Pirouette”. Shires sounded her strongest of the night in this moment amongst soaring guitar parts and the driving drums.
Standouts for me were “Hawk For The Dove”, “Bad Behavior”, and Take It Like A Man closer “My Own Galaxy”. She had the crowd laughing with her banter between songs. She mused about not knowing what to do with her hands onstage and cited Maren Morris’ advice:
“You gotta put the fiddle down and hold the microphone sometimes”
Shires told the story of her ectopic pregnancy that required abortion to keep her alive – to be a mother, wife, and daughter to her family. She then performed her song “The Problem” that she released to raise money for the Yellowhammer Fund in 2020. She expressed being worried about the results of this election. Being one night away from the results, I could definitely feel the impact throughout the night. She stressed that it’s okay to be scared sometimes and encouraged us to vote.
One shock for me was her breaking out “Highwomen” from her side project with Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby. She was accompanied by acoustic guitar. You could feel the unity in the room being built on from “The Problem”. The pensive feeling rose up into a cathartic release as the drums came in at the end. She kept the Highwomen songs coming with a last-minute addition of “Don’t Call Me” to the setlist. The room was filled with renewed energy.
She finished off the set with a joyous cover of friend John Prine’s “Saddle in the Rain”. You could feel how much fun she was having on stage. Shires is an incredible performer. Onstage she is equal parts fierce and gentle. She can destroy a room with her fiddle, and she knows the power that she holds.
An encore was demanded by the sold-out crowd, and Shires and Co. came back for more. “Look Like A Bird” was the song of choice. It featured a 5+ minute fiddle solo and slayed harder than any guitar I’ve seen played. It was a triumphant return to the Twin Cities, and I know she felt the love throughout her time on stage.