THEY WERE 9,995 maniacs short on stage, but a winsome chanteuse compensated for the missing madmen, and no link was missed. Natalie Merchant is enchanting, dancing with a protean sensuality that hails from somewhere quite beyond, a strange and ethereal place that touches even the most cynical listener with its intimacy and wisdom.
Yes, I found myself gushing along with everyone else who leapt from their seats to stand rapt with attention from the opening song, ‘Hey, Jack Kerouac’, which had these ironic musings on the fate of beatnik media stars: “Now for the tricky part/When you were the brightest star, who were the shadows?” In turn, Merchant all but overshadowed her fine ensemble with graceful body language and unique phrasing that kept one enthralled yet distanced from the words; and while someone predictably yelled “Where’s Michael Stipe?” after ‘A Campfire Song’, Ms. Merchant proved tonight that she can mutter and mumble with the best of them, keeping the melodic cadences intact while maintaining a hypnotic edge.
The final encore found her alone at the piano with her wispy soliloquy on loneliness, ‘Verdi Cries’, which had audience members finding themselves lost with Merchant upon some distant, frozen shore. I had been wondering why the new album is entitled In My Tribe; right then, I knew. It was creepy, but it felt so very good.
© Gerrie Lim, L.A. Weekly, 2 October 1987