Review of Patty Griffin: Live from the Artists Den
Ato Records / Red
Patty Griffin: Live from the Artists Den

Reviewed by Jeff Giles



n February 6, 2007 – the date, not coincidentally, that served as the release of her excellent Children Running Through album – Patty Griffin launched a tour at the Angel Orensanz Center in New York City. Joined by her band, a string section, and keyboard player to the gods, Ian McLagan, Griffin ran through a mixture of old favorites and new tunes in front of a crowd as small and rapturous as only attendees of an invite-only appearance can be. It was the kind of performance that Griffin fans outside the five boroughs had to be pissed about missing out on an opportunity to see; luckily for them, it’s out now on DVD.

It bears pointing out that Griffin just released a live album, the excellent A Kiss in Time, four years ago – and given that she’s only put out two studio sets since then, the justification for this DVD’s existence is relatively slim. She’s a folk singer at heart, and isn’t prone to thorough reinvention of her songs in the live setting; the main reason to see an artist like Patty Griffin is to experience the material intimately, as it’s being played, in the company of fellow fans. With the right home theater setup, you can come within spitting distance of replicating the audio portion of the evening, but it won’t be the same as sitting in a converted synagogue and watching these songs unfold.

None of which detracts from the fact that this is a set as solidly entertaining as you’d expect from an artist of Griffin’s caliber. The strings are certainly a nice touch, particularly on the stunning “Burgundy Shoes,” and it’s always nice to hear McLagan in action, but when you’ve got a voice as clear and strong as Patty Griffin does, the spotlight tends to stay pretty squarely on you. Fortunately, her songbook is strong enough to withstand the scrutiny.

Happily for fans who purchased A Kiss in Time, Griffin avoids overlapping that set here – partly by concentrating on newer material (including seven of Children Running Through’s 14 songs), partly through judiciously chosen covers (including a soulful-enough take on “Get Yourself Another Fool”), and partly by reaching across her catalog to include songs such as “You Never Get What You Want,” from 1996’s Living with Ghosts, and “Top of the World,” recorded for the unreleased Silver Bell, and later turned into a hit by the Dixie Chicks. It isn’t exactly a comprehensive overview of her career, but it makes for a nice companion piece alongside A Kiss in Time.

Brief interview segments are interspersed between the performances, which – along with the stunningly gorgeous venue – sort of justifies the DVD. If not for those components, the show probably would have been better-suited for a CD release (and in fact, if you buy Live from the Artists Den at Barnes & Noble, you can get their exclusive CD/DVD combo package). She’s no doubt a mesmerizing live performer if you’re actually in the building with her, but on the screen, this really isn’t all that visually compelling. It’ll be a must-buy for hardcore fans, but this really isn’t essential viewing. By and large, you’d do just as well to stick with the studio versions, but if you’re dead set on buying Artists Den, do yourself a favor and pick up the Barnes & Noble version, or just rip the DVD’s audio tracks – you’re going to want to hear this a lot more often than you’ll feel like watching it.

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