concert reviews

Mary Lou Lord at Iota, Arlington, VA, Sunday 22 February 2004

"I'm used to playing in the subway," Mary Lou Lord said with a grin from Iota's stage on Sunday night. "Or anyplace else I'm welcome." While she got her start as a solo busker in the Boston T system, Lord has since grown comfortable playing with a full band. At Iota she was joined by members of New York's Gingersol, who opened the show with a harmony-packed set reminiscent of the Gin Blossoms.

Lord's set began and ended solo, her folky soprano accompanying her acoustic guitar, which resisted nearly every retuning attempt. Lord filled the empty spaces with self-deprecating banter, consistently charming the crowd amid shouted requests before she played her first chord.

About a third of her 90-minute set previewed songs from her upcoming album, "Baby Blue," most of which was written by longtime collaborator Nick Saloman of the Bevis Frond. Lord is known for playing other people's songs, and most of her set consisted of covers (ranging from Irish rockers the Pogues to indie-rock superstars Guided by Voices). Because she's so successful at selecting and interpreting the songs of others to fit her own life, these meshed smoothly with the few originals she played.

Although most of the set was upbeat, Lord got a little misty-eyed when talking about her friend Elliott Smith, who died late last year. Years ago, they had played on the street during the South by Southwest festival in Austin, surrounded by friends from the Kill Rock Stars label, which gave them their start. She dedicated to Smith's memory a tearful version of Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," a well-chosen end to a night of perfectly selected songs.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 24 February 2004
.: Selected discography: Baby Blue (Mary Lou Lord, 2004); Eastern (Gingersol, 2004).