Catie Curtis,
with Kris Delmhorst
& Karen Capaldi,
at the Soiled Dove, Denver, Colo.
(29 September 1999)

A pair of men walking past the long line of mostly women looked stunned. Their questioning faces appeared to want to ask a burning question: Was it women's night at the Soiled Dove?

No, it wasn't. It was, however, Catie Curtis' night there, and while the majority of the audience was comprised of women, a large number of male fans showed up to see her perform a particularly pleasing concert. While her voice sometimes sounded tired, Curtis' energy and overall enthusiasm outweighed any minor vocal glitches.

Opening for Curtis was Denver singer-songwriter Karen Capaldi, who sounded better than I'd heard her in a while. Capaldi admitted to having spent too much time recently serving coffee rather than making music but announced that she was working on a new CD. ("It's about time!" a fan exclaimed from the audience.)

Capaldi often has been compared to a softer Melissa Etheridge, and while she's a Denver-area favorite, she has toured nationally. New Jersey's Appel Farms Folk Festival is merely one stage where she has performed on the other side of the country. Tonight, as usual, she was a solo voice with her guitar. She laughed as she joked that she "thought it might snow today because it whenever I play, it snows."

She asked herself, "Is this insanity or is it brilliant clarity?" as she opened her set. She mostly played songs from her forthcoming CD, including one inspired by Dorothy Allison's novel Bastard out of Carolina.

Capaldi seemed happy to be playing music again and closed with a song inspired by a Jane Siberry concert she'd once seen in Boulder. "The stories, the fairy tales, the world are your heart," she cried in her tribute.

Curtis also honestly was happy to be playing in Colorado. She told us right away that she was glad to be in Denver. "Everyone must say that when they come here -- 'Oh, your city's beautiful.' But I'm from a low-level coastal town in Maine; I never understood altitude." Curtis went on to tell one of her first amusing anecdotes of the night when she explained how the high altitude instructions on the Bisquik box always stymied her. "I could never picture someone cooking pancakes at the top of a mountain," she admitted with a laugh.

Her songs tend towards introspection, as in her opening number, "100 Miles," from her new CD, A Crash Course in Roses. While she played guitar, she reminded us that she also plays drums, as she operated her kick drum. Her second number, "Memphis," a song "that's autobiographical except for the facts," really brought in the rest of the band: Sean Staples on mandolin, Kris Delmhorst on fiddle and backing vocals, and Mark Peterson on bass. Curtis stopped in the middle of the song to explain that the line "about being in a hotel room wanting to kiss someone" was autobiographical.

Her new songs from A Crash Course in Roses play well live. Curtis' communicative singing style, making it seem as if she truly is speaking to you, worked well with "Ways of the World," a song inspired by her belief that a lot of media can be overstimulating. "What's the Matter," an honest portrait of small town attitudes from a native who loves the town but wishes it would accept not only her but everyone else even remotely different, elicited positive audience response.

"Petunia," Curtis' new electric guitar (named by an audience member at a previous gig), made "her" presence known in "Gave Me Love." We were assured that she really could play Petunia and laughed so much that she almost had trouble singing the song's first few lines.

Curtis' voice generally is the kind that stretches back and falls slowly forward again. "Radical," one of her best-known earlier songs, demonstrates that skill nicely in its chorus. Delmhorst's fiddle on "Radical" seemed disconcerting at first. Soon, however, I found myself liking it. It gave the song more of a "down home" feel and helped link it with its thematic sister, "What's the Matter." Just as she earlier asked why the town seemed afraid of her, she now insisted that she was not trying to scare them; she didn't think she was "radical" simply by living her life.

At one point, she broke from her set list and asked the audience what we wanted to hear. She appeased us by singing the two songs we'd cried for the most, "The Wolf" and "Larry." Curtis' early days as a Boston social worker show in "The Wolf," a song about child abuse as told from an 8-year-old's perspective. Curtis played both "The Wolf" and "Larry" solo; she explained that the band hadn't played them in a while. "Larry" wound up being a sing-along when Curtis mentioned she might need help remembering the words. (Indeed, at one point, she laughed and disagreed with an audience member's rendition of a line; she then nodded as she recalled the actual lyric.)

Curtis indeed seemed very comfortable with her audience. She told us about how sensitive she is and how she can't bear to read reviews -- even good ones. She shared an embarrassing story about a gig in Northampton, Massachusetts, and another about how disheveled and lost became while trying to find a Manhattan business meeting during Hurricane Floyd. She felt safe enough to hand over the spotlight to her fiddler, Kris Delmhorst, an up-and-coming Boston singer-songwriter. Delmhorst strapped on an acoustic guitar and Curtis sang backing vocals on Delmhorst's enchanting "Weatherman," an extremely poetic piece filled with metaphors. Delmhorst indeed is an artist to watch.

The final encore consisted of two more songs from her latest album: "Fusco's Song" (the hidden track, she reminded us) and "Magnolia Street." The latter, she confessed, was even more special to her that night "because someone in the audience told me they used it for their ceremony." She confirmed with a laugh that she really lived on Magnolia Avenue, but she changed the name to street to protect her privacy. She then changed the light mood when she launched into a gentle, touching song about how you know that this particular person is the person.

I've seen Curtis play a number of times previously, but I don't think I've ever seen her as spirited as she was on this tour. Why shouldn't she be? She has a group of strong songs from a brand new album to promote and a fantastic band to help her play them. Her infectious fun-filled energy spread to the audience who gave her a standing ovation. I know I was energized after her performance; my drive home to Boulder seemed a lot shorter than usual that night.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]

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