Two Susan McKeown shows

Susan McKeown at the University of Hartford (Hartford, CT)
Susan McKeown at Passim (Boston, MA)

Last weekend, Jenn and I were lucky enough to see two excellent performances by Susan McKeown.

On Saturday, November 19, Susan played at the University of Hartford as part of the WWUH Celtic Airs Concert Series. She had performed there most recently on her annual Christmas tours with Johnny Cunningham, but this was her first time playing there as the sole headliner in a decade or so. For this tour Susan was joined by fiddler Dana Lyn, double bass player Lindsey Horner, and guitarist Eamon O’Leary, who did their usual brilliant job. I think even the Irish trad purists in the audience were wowed by Lindsey’s extraordinary skills, and I thought Dana, who I’d last seen during the Johnny Cunningham memorial shows last winter, had gotten even better during the intervening months. As for Susan herself, I’d last seen her perform back on St. Patrick’s Day, which is, in my opinion, far too long to go without hearing her amazing voice.

The long set list consisted of a few songs from Susan’s previous trad albums, including “Sweet Liberty” and “In London So Fair,” a couple of songs from her most recent non-trad album, “South” and “River,” and several songs from her upcoming trad album Black Thorn, which is scheduled to come out on February 14th. For me the highlights of the show were Susan pulling out “Westron Wynde/Westlin Winds,” from the first Susan McKeown & The Chanting House album, and then her and Dana doing “When I Was on Horseback” from Sweet Liberty, which was the last song Johnny recorded before his untimely demise. I’ll freely admit that one had me tearing up, given how many times I’d seen Johnny perform with Susan in that very hall.

After the show we mentioned to Susan that we were considering trying to make it up to Boston for her show on Sunday, and she promptly told us that she’d add us to the guest list. How could we refuse? So, the next evening we drove on up to Boston and then took the T into Harvard Square to get to Passim. The last time we’d been there had been for a sold out Vienna Teng show back in April 2004, and the way they’d packed in both the tables and the people hadn’t left us with much desire to return. This time there were less tables and less people, which was definitely a mixed blessing, as it would have been nice if Susan had been able to play for a bigger crowd. Lindsey came over to our table and chatted with us for a while, which was cool, and then it was time for the show.

It was another long set, with much the same song selection as the previous night. Hearing the new songs two nights in a row definitely has me looking forward to Black Thorn even more, and this time Susan threw in a cover of the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home,” which she performs with just Lindsey. Wow. I’d heard her and Lindsay do this one once before, at the Living Room in NYC, and it was just as impressive this time around.

There was more hanging around and talking after the show, and it ended up being a rather late night, but it was really great to both get to see Susan perform both nights and to have the chance to talk with her again (and Lindsey too). She’s planning on touring again in March of next year, and I’ll definitely be trying to make it to some of those concerts.

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