Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto, AP.
It was a tale of two 30-something Southern-reared female singers on Saturday night in Minneapolis.
North Carolina’s Tift Merritt came to the Cedar Cultural Center on the 10th anniversary of the release of her acclaimed debut album. Arkansas’ Beth Ditto brought her 13-year-old band, Gossip, to the Fine Line. Both gave rewarding performances that were stark contrasts.
Merritt, 37, was all introspective and poetic, painfully shy about conversing between songs. Ditto, 31, was loud and liberating, an outgoing yakker who gave running commentary during songs and between them. At show’s end, she even preached for a good five minutes.
In her 90-minute performance, Merritt came across as the daughter of Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash. Smart, thoughtful, full of hurt. A singer with a small, dusky, appealing voice. Twin Cities-reared guitarist Eric Heywood added the right seasonings to her understated Americana tunes. He’s played with Merritt, who now lives in New York, before, but he’s recently toured with the Pretenders and Ray LaMontagne.
Drummer Tony Leone, who is a member of Ollabelle, was new, having replaced Merritt’s husband, Zeke Hutchins, who’s now on tour with Sharon Van Etten. Bassist Jay Brown has worked with Merritt for 12 years.
Merritt said this was only the second date of the tour to promote her fine new “Traveling Alone” album. She said she appreciated the friendliness of the Midwest, though she thought it was odd to order pecan pie at the Norske Nook because that’s a North Carolina specialty. She said meatballs should be the top draw up here.
Material from her new CD dominated the set, with “Drifted Apart” sounding like a 1968 country waltz, “Still Not Home” rocking a bit, and the melancholy “Too Soon To Go” being an obvious set closer.
Gossip, which is big in London, was playing the last night on this leg of its U.S. tour, and Ditto, who calls Portland, Ore. Home, was fighting a cold. If she hadn’t kept kvetching about her cold and trying to use shots of booze to battle her illness, you wouldn’t have known the difference. Her voice was potent, her personality outsized and her performance triumphant.
For just short of two hours, the irrepressible Ditto carried on, professing her love for Madonna and Lady Gaga, slipping in snippets of songs by Rihanna, Usher, Bikini Kills and others, doing a one-word impression of Janet Jackson and delivering Gossip’s punkish dance-rock with crowd-empowering enthusiasm.
Thankfully, the set list was not filled with material from this year’s “A Joyful Noise,” the band’s sixth and most overproduced album. Highlights included the pumping “Perfect World” from “Noise” and the stomping closer “Standing in the Way of Control,” a 2005 dance club sensation, during which the pint-tall, plus-sized Gossip girl stood smack dab in the middle of the audience singing her heart out.
After the music stopped and the four musicians exited, Ditto wouldn’t stop, delivering a rambling sermon about power to the people, Jesus not knowing hate, everybody being a winner despite who wins the election and thanking the fans for “buying my mother a house, albeit in Arkansas. It was more like a barn.” It just might have been all the “cold medicine” fueling the preaching.