Amanda Shires at Thalia Hall in Chicago, IL

Thalia Hall had the honor of hearing two great performances in one night on Thursday, the perfect early start to the weekend.

Both fresh from Americana Fest, Amanda Shires and Leah Blevins took turns entertaining the Chicago audience. Leah was the first of two angelic voices to take to the stage with a performance that entranced the growing crowd. It’s not often an audience watches an opening act in near to perfect silence but this was something special. Right from the get-go, you can see why Leah has been chosen to open for Shires, she has a very complimentary style both musically and lyrically.  It was a simple performance, with Leah singing with her acoustic guitar whilst being beautifully accompanied by Zach Torres who played some wonderful acoustic guitar and provided backing vocals.  With songs and a voice like hers, you don’t need all the bells and whistles and the two guitars/vocals set up was the perfect way to present the songs. Leah’s voice is truly unique and you can experience it for yourself by checking out her current EP, Walk Home.

Next up on the night of magnificent voices, Amanda Shires took to the stage, accompanied by her five-piece band. Whilst this tour has been dubbed the “$hit Show,” that’s one thing it certainly isn’t. This was a tight performance by what felt like the best of friends. You often hear people say their touring band members are like family, which is understandable given how much time they spend together on the road. However, the way Amanda gave friendly, personal anecdotes about each member of the band as she introduced them throughout the night was rather unique and truly added to the familial feel.  For their part, the band do a fantastic job throughout the night of helping her realize her music in the live setting with a real rock and roll feel.

In the past, Amanda has performed and recorded with a number of different artists and she performed her material as a two-piece in 2015 when she opened for the late, great Gregg Allman (where she met current keyboard player Peter Levin who was playing in Allman’s band at the time). This show had a completely different feel to it, with the whole band and the new material adding an entirely different dimension to her sound. However, one thing has most definitely remained the same – Shires’ incredible voice, which is the focal point of everything. Even those sat at the very back of Thalia Hall (and maybe some people walking by on the street outside) could not fail to be affected by the quality of her voice, especially during songs such as “Parking Lot Pirouette” which saw her deliver the chorus so passionately and powerfully that it felt like it was blowing your hair back. In total contrast to this, there were also times when her voice took on a much more delicate feel, such as during the affecting “Leave It Alone”. There was also still a healthy dose of Shires on the violin, which is always a pleasure to hear, even if on the night it was maybe a little low in the mix.

This tour is in support of the recently released To The Sunset, and it was great to hear the majority of the set comprised of songs from this album. It’s definitely not a typical album of the kind you would expect from a ‘traditional’ Americana / Nashville artist. Amanda has said that she wanted this album to have a more poppy feel to it, and this is evident in the songs and the way they were performed. It’s lyrically an extremely interesting album that sees her dealing with events both past and present, seemingly drawing on both her own experiences or considering things from the perspective of others.  Her t-shirts at the merch stand quote the lyric “Mama wants to change that Nashville sound,” and whilst the next line in the 400 Unit song says “but they’re never gonna let her” that clearly hasn’t discouraged Shires from forging her own path. This is an album that feels like it’s not trying to be anything other than a true expression of where Shires’ finds herself creatively and in her day-to-day life and, as it turns out, that is a place that makes for great music – especially when it’s performed loud with a great live band.

Amanda Shires is constantly on the road touring and has dates scheduled through until December.

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About Kirstine Walton 291 Articles
Kirstine moved from the UK to Chicago in 2011, and has fallen in love with the city and its music scene. She enjoys combining her two biggest passions – music and photography. If there is a band with a guitar playing, chances are she’ll be there…camera in hand. Kirstine went to her first live concert at 7 years old, and hasn’t looked back since!

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