In October 2009, Natalie Merchant announced that she had signed with Nonesuch Records and would be releasing a new album, great news for fans of her solo career. Leave Your Sleep, her fifth solo album and a compilation of five years of inspiration from a “conversation” with her daughter over the first 6 years of her life, was released on April 13, 2010. Natalie was kind enough to start her tour in Montclair, New Jersey, where she performed to a sold out audience. Since the album is a “a project about childhood” and subsequently adapted from 19th and 20th century British and American poetry, each song had a very distinct concept and theme.
The show started on time, however, this was not an opener. Show-goers were still purchasing drink, grabbing a t-shirt, or making their ways to their seats as the show started. Although many times the opening band could be looked at as almost superfluous or a way of biding time, having an opening act at the show would have set the tone for the evening if done correctly. Some of the more adventurous fans got up and out of their seats to dance in the walkways, however, many did not, not knowing what to expect from her later on in the set.
Natalie introduced each song and also introduced each of the poets that had inspired the song’s conception. Natalie performed approximately half of the songs on the new album (it is a double disc, so she definitely was able to present a great representation of it), which were inspired by some of the greats: E.E. Cummings, Edward Lear, Ogden Nash and Robert Graves. Accompanied by a full band, strings, and horns, Natalie played a very even mix of folk and earthy styled songs, with commanding climaxes and whimsical dénouements. The crowd was incredibly receptive, however, the only flaw seemed to have been that she had stacked the more ‘upbeat’ and ‘danceable’ songs in the front of the set, leaving the crowd in anticipation of a more upbeat encore. The audience heckled her playfully, “we came here to dance” – she rebutted, “I am dancing up here.” Dedicated fans showed their love, “We love you, Natalie” and “You’re beautiful.” Being her first show in a significant amount of time and debuting all new material, she took note of the audience suggestions and said she would be tailoring her set accordingly for the rest of tour. Natalie did come out for an encore, but her song selections from “Ophelia” and “Tigerlily” were more thought provoking and spirited as opposed to some of her catchier catalog staples. Natalie’s séance of a performance seemed to evoke an amount of energy, in song and live performance, that is unmatched by many of the musicians of today.