Review: Anais Mitchell at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall

Anais Mitchell is the kind of folk singer-songwriter who is more likely to write tunes about mythic figures and distant wars than the love who did her wrong. The pixie-like performer opened the night with a six-minute Scottish ballad from the 1700s and ended the set with a song from her album Hadestown, a folk-opera based on the Orpheus myth and set in a post-apocalyptic American depression. One song in between featured lyrics written in Iraqi by a Syrian hotel clerk. Another was based on a short story by Mitchell’s novelist-turned-professor father. She does all this without an ounce of pretension. Even her most complex themes come across as more heartfelt — and sometimes chilling — as opposed to some kind of cerebral, intellectual experiment.

All this is not to say that she doesn’t write songs about love and love lost — she certainly does, and she does it well. At one point in the show, Mitchell shared how she had at one time envisioned writing a political song about the oil industry. This later became her well-loved tune, “Tailor,” off her 2012 Young Man in America album. This song has exactly nothing to do with oil, and is instead a song about a woman who has always defined herself through the eyes of the man who left her.

Those familiar with Mitchell’s work know her as a brilliant writer and have perhaps already fallen in love with her uniquely high-pitched (some might say quirky) vocals. But seeing her perform live is a completely different thing. The small-framed mother of an infant girl (who was sleeping backstage during the performance) had no trouble filling the stage and leaving the audience spellbound with just her vocals and deft guitar-playing. At certain points in the set (mostly on the Hadestown tunes) she put on her director’s cap and instructed the audience on how to whistle and sing choruses to represent the howling wind she envisioned for the stage performance. (Mitchell mentioned that she’s working on bringing an extended version of Hadestown to the theater, complete with sets, costumes and props.)

After the performance, Mitchell checked on her baby before returning to sign albums and chat with fans. She is currently on a North American tour on the heels of releasing her latest album, xoa, and will head to Ireland and the UK in November. The 15-track solo album features both old and new songs and is definitely worth a listen for existing and future fans.



Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Lea McLellan
Lea McLellan is a freelance writer who likes to write stories about music, art, food, wellness and interesting locals doing interesting things.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.