Greetings, fellow Annie friends! My wife, Anne, and I were fortunate enough to make the trek from Atlanta, Georgia to Bath, Maine for Annie's October 12 show at the Chocolate Church. This was the debut show for her pending tour of venues in the Northeast. At the request of the Northern Lights editors, I'll share some thoughts on the show here.
After flying into Boston the previous night, we drove up to Maine Saturday morning, stopping in Portsmouth, NH for lunch. It was peak "foliage" season and the colors were brilliant; indeed it was a perfect time for our first venture into Maine. Upon arriving in Bath, we shortly came upon the Chocolate Church. It is an appropriately named theatre -- a very dark brown building -- formerly a church (of course!) originally constructed in 1847. The sign out front read "Annie Haslam's RENAISSANCE." Oddly, Annie's name was in teeny, tiny letters but Renaissance was presented in big, bold letters.
Annie revealed during the show that this was her first performance ever in Maine, solo or with Renaissance. When she polled the audience as to who had seen her perform before, it appeared to be about a 50-50 split. Certainly not the response she would have received at The Bottom Line! For that reason, a decision may have been made to emphasize the Renaissance name.
Annie's show was the kick-off of the Chocolate Church's fall/winter season, featuring all sorts of musical and theatrical performances. All of this provided a different sort of crowd mix. There appeared to be many Bath "locals" that were there supporting the local arts scene. There also appeared to be quite a few (majority) purely Renaissance fans, seemingly unfamiliar with her recent solo work. Annie received a strong response, but appeared frustrated by the crys of "Scheherazade" and "Black Flame" towards the end of the show. "I'm trying to move on ... don't you like my new music?" She, of course, was greeted with rousing applause ... but Annie seemed to lose a bit of her typical playfulness from that point on.
The Chocolate Church was converted into a performance venue in the early 1980's when theatre style seating was installed. There is also a small balcony. I would guess it would hold about 250 people, with about 200 people in attendance for Annie's performance. Someone told us that local radio spots for the show were touting that people from "as far away as California and Georgia" were coming in for the show. We had been in touch with Joe Franzen back in September so we were probably expected. Apparently, some fans came in from San Francisco, as well. Annie made reference to this during the set, asking with a grin, "Are you people MAD?? You're not going to bill me for your plane tickets, are you?"
Annie was accompanied by David Biglin (keys and guitar), Rave Tesar (keys), and Joe Goldberger (percussion). They opened the show with "Moonlight Shadow." The acoustics, as expected, were great. Annie and the band seemed a bit restrained for the first couple of tunes. It was almost like OK ... we're playing in a church ... to an unfamiliar crowd ... let's not be too rock & roll. Very tuneful, but lacking a bit of punch. Denny Bridges, their sound man, later agreed. The band and Annie soon loosened up, though. Annie's voice was absolutely as strong as I've ever heard it. Denny, by the way, did a terrific job with the mix.
Not surprisingly, most of the perfomance was culled from Blessing in Disguise. "If I Loved You" from Annie In Wonderland was featured in the middle of the set. Annie said her father used to sing this to her; it's a Rodgers and Hammerstein piece. There were three new songs penned by David and Rave. "Summon The Angels" and "Sleepless Mother" were two of them. I really enjoyed both of these tracks, which to me, brought back a more "dramatic feel" to Annie's work.
A song called "Sometimes" was the third new track, which Annie revealed will be included on the pending Steve Howe collaboration album. It's song that Steve did not write, but he suggested for the album. "Turn Of The Century" was also perfomed beautifully and seemed to be one of the stronger crowd pleasers of the evening. On the Renaissance front, "Carpet Of The Sun" and "Northern Lights" were the only songs included in the main set.
After loosening up a bit further into the set, Annie's happy, silly persona surfaced. She called upon the entire audience to stand and do a belly dance during "What He Seeks." Well, at least everyone stood up and, er, sort of danced. OK, there were a couple of belly dancers out there. "The Children (of Medellin)" was another highlight. This truly seems to be a favorite of Annie's. The set closed with "After The Oceans Are Gone." Annie's voice soared on this one. The encores were "A New Life" and "Ocean Gypsy" (from Scheherazade).
I'll put a quick plug in for Bar Scott at this point. She is a Poughkeepsie, NY songwriter/performer who recorded a CD last year at Rave's studio and was produced by Annie's sound man. This CD was played as the crowd dispersed. Denny was kind enough to sell a copy to Anne and me, after the tuneful female vocals caught our ear.
A reception was held afterwards, attended by Annie and the band. We had the chance to chat briefly with Annie. We assured her that we wouldn't bill her for our trip. Annie said that she and Steve Howe didn't get any recording done on her recent trip to England. They were basically still in the formulative stages, getting ideas together. No firm timetable for recording or release at this point, it seems. Annie announced during the show that Still Life had recently been released on One Way Records. We saw it in the HMV in Boston, in fact.
Catch the other announced dates in the coming months, if you can. A very strong performance, indeed.