Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lovely, if a little cranky

Natalie Merchant performs The King of China’s Daughter from her new album Leave Your Sleep at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Tuesday.


Natalie Merchant performs The King of China’s Daughter from her new album Leave Your Sleep at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Tuesday.

CLEARWATER — Hell hath no fury like Natalie Merchant in need of Tums.

Thirty minutes into her long, lovely if especially prickly show at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Tuesday, the singer dedicated the spicy lil' number The Peppery Man to the Columbia Restaurant, which "gave me the worst case of food poisoning of my life. … That's not Spanish food. The house salad looked like something in my compost bucket."

Wow, way to ingratiate yourself with the Tampa Bay peeps, Nat! Next time, why don't you just wear a Red Sox jersey or shout, "No one rocks like Orlando!"

Ah yes, for 21/2 hours, in front of 1,708 loyalists, Merchant — never one to suffer fools or, apparently, a concert-postponing bellyache — displayed all the glaring reasons why we've loved, loathed and/or feared her in a sexy-scary-schoolmarm way.

Touring behind new album Leave Your Sleep, a 26-track anthology of 19th and 20th century poetry set to myriad genres (not as boring as it sounds), Merchant mixed a slide-projector tutorial in the masters of verse (okay, that got a little dull) with oft-unsettling dance moves, her vaguely affected snobbery and, of course, that supernaturally beautiful voice.

Merchant is 46 now, decades removed from her youthful twirl as the head of 10,000 Maniacs. But her voice, a stunning gift that pours like some precious liquid metal, can still swell to magnificent, otherworldly moments. In other words, it's easy to overlook her more cloying Natalieness.

The first several numbers suffered from a Victorian ornateness, a famous Merchant crutch for sure. But once she got to Nathalia Crane's swinging The Janitor's Boy and the Crescent City fun of Jack Prelutsky's Bleezer's Ice-Cream, you remembered how sexy she can be, especially backed by a versatile eight-piece band at ease with Balkan folk, Appalachian stomp and Cajun dance.

The crowd was patient and appreciative of the poem treatments, but they roared for a second set of hits. Merchant hasn't toured in seven years, and she's threatening to go just as long before she returns. So she kindly dusted off the goodies, including Wonder, Carnival and the sublime Maniacs gem Hey Jack Kerouac, all of which were performed acoustically but with great, grooving smolder, Merchant letting her pipes soar to eargasm highs.

"A pseudo-Spanish restaurant attempted to sabotage tonight's performance," Merchant said, sticking it to our revered foodie Valhalla, over and over. But her discomfort also seemed to bring her — and us — a strange joy.

Yep, the love-hate relationship lives on. Come back soon, Natalie. I know a great place for paella.

Sean Daly can be reached at or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.

Lovely, if a little cranky 08/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 12:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]
  2. Mueller casts broad net in requesting extensive records from Trump White House


    WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian election meddling has requested extensive records and email correspondence from the White House, covering the president's private discussions about firing his FBI director and his response to news that the then-national security adviser was under …

    In a photograph provided by the Russian foreign ministry, President Donald Trump meets with Sergei Lavrov, left, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, May 10, 2017. Special counsel Robert Mueller is interested in this meeting, where Trump said dismissing FBI Director James Comey had relieved "great pressure" on him, the New York Times reported on Sept. 20. [Russian Foreign Ministry via  New York Times]
  3. 'We will find our island destroyed': Hurricane Maria demolishes Puerto Rico


    SAN JUAN — Sleepless Puerto Ricans awoke Wednesday knowing to expect a thrashing from the most ferocious storm to strike the island in at least 85 years. They met nightfall confronting the ruin Hurricane Maria left behind: engorged rivers, blown-out windows, sheared roofs, toppled trees and an obliterated electric …

    Rescue vehicles from the Emergency Management Agency stand trapped under an awning during the impact of Hurricane Maria, after the storm  hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has lost its major hurricane status, after raking Puerto Rico. But forecasters say some strengthening is in the forecast and Maria could again become a major hurricane by Thursday. [Carlos Giusti | Associated Press]
  4. Obamacare repeal bill offers flexibility and uncertainty


    The latest Republican proposal to undo the Affordable Care Act would grant states much greater flexibility and all but guarantee much greater uncertainty for tens of millions of people.

  5. Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire 'private briefings' on 2016 campaign, report says


    Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, the Washington Post reports.

    Paul Manafort, then Donald Trump's campaign chairman, talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. [Associated Press]