Tift Merritt at the Museum of Fine Arts

Matthew Shelter on August 25, 2011

Photo by Matthew Shelter

Tift Merritt
Museum of Fine Arts
Boston, MA
August 10

Accompanied by the sound of crickets, Tift Merritt played a concert under the stars last Wednesday evening in a charming little urban oasis – the Calderwood Courtyard of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The show, part of the museum’s summer Concerts in the Courtyard series, featured a 14-song set from Merritt and her full band.

In performance, Merritt is playing now with an energy and verve that harkens back to the up-tempo pace of much of Tambourine, her critically acclaimed 2004 album. She opened with three songs – “Engine to Turn,” “All The Reasons We Don’t Have to Fight” and “Mixtape” – from her most recent disc, 2010’s See You On The Moon. All three rocked a little harder than the more intimate reading Merritt gives them on album.

She then played a feisty set that leaned toward the upbeat, highlights of which included “Bramble Rose” and “Virginia, No One Can Warn You” off of Bramble Rose, “Ain’t Looking Closely Today” and “Stray Papers” from Tambourine, and “Never Talk About It” and “Live Till You Die” – the latter of which is a cover of an old Emitt Rhodes song – from See You On The Moon
“I really like the museum,” Merritt commented at one point. “It’s so much nicer than a bar…especially if you can actually drink at the museum,” which is indeed the case at the MFA’s concert series (Author’s note: please drink responsibly).

In an interview after the show, she elaborated: “I love museums. If I could be anything, I’d be a painter. It just seems like such a pure, emotional process. I try often, but I just can’t seem to make something from scratch with paint that amounts to much. I love any chance to be around carefully made things, and I really appreciate my music being placed in that setting. It is a very nice to be outside of a rock club now and then.”

Merritt unveiled two new songs late in the set – “Too Soon To Go” and “Traveling Alone” – both of which were warmly received by the museum crowd. In a subsequent interview, she says she’s “been writing a lot, and recording some on my own and feeling my way into a new album.”

She says she’s been listening to a lot of Dylan – Street Legal, Oh Mercy – and Randy Newman of late. “‘Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father’ – that just pummels me.” But Merritt says she does more reading than listening to music when she’s writing, “to keep a clear head.”

“I’ve been on a streak of artist biographies, especially women. Georgia O’Keefe right now. I found Studs Terkel’s Hard Times at the library recently. I’m such a fan of his, and the interviews are like songs of a sort. Jack Gilbert poems, especially “Refusing Heaven.” Chogyam Trungpa’s writings on art and Buddhism. Stumbled on them by accident and they are a very beautiful and unpretentious way of thinking about making things."