Amanda Shires Is Fearless (And Atmosphereless) At The Heights Theater

Amanda Shires Is Fearless (And Atmosphereless) At The Heights Theater
Photo by Reggie Mathalone
Amanda Shires
The Heights Theater
February 27, 2020

Amanda Shires got her start at 15, playing fiddle for the legendary Texas Playboys. She's also performed with John Prine, Todd Snider, and the 400 Unit alongside husband Jason Isbell. She's released six solo albums and in the last year founded the Highwomen with Maren Morris, Brandi Carlisle, and Natalie Hemby. She also earned an MFA in Creative Writing.

And none of you could be bothered to show up.

Shires brought her "live music meditation" to the Heights Theater for the Houston stop on her Atmosphereless tour. It was a show that leaned heavily on 2018's To the Sunset (an album whose title can be read as both a directive and a toast) but also teased her imminent new release (Deciphering Dreams) and also featured a couple Highwomen tunes ("Highwomen," "Don't Call Me").

Maybe one of the most common misconceptions about Shires —  she played fiddle for the Texas Playboys after all — is that she's purely a country artist. That gets kicked to the curb pretty quick once you hear the guitars or distorted violin and protracted guitar solos on "Look Like A Bird," a song reminiscent of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer," that never really tore up the country charts.

click to enlarge Shires kept control over a sparse Heights Theater crowd. - PHOTO BY REGGIE MATHALONE
Shires kept control over a sparse Heights Theater crowd.
Photo by Reggie Mathalone
Shires's voice recalls Emmylou Harris or perhaps a more muscular Nancy Griffith, but you'd be remiss not to acknowledge the influence of Tom Waits (or, hell, Nick Cave) on Shires's surfeit of songs about desperate lives and failed loves. Her voice can be both powerful, such as when belting out the soulful "Parking Lot Pirouette," or almost faltering, as in the tremulous "White Feather," where she pointedly states:

It's easy to be quiet
And easy to be silent
When you're afraid of what you don't understand    
She possesses enough virtuosity, both as an instrumentalist and a singer that she could fall back on technical aptitude alone. But join her for one of her "live music meditations" like last night and you won't doubt the authenticity of her words, or her affection for Genesis (she closed out the set with "That's All").

Amanda Shires is both a self-effacing and formidable presence on stage, and while I might appreciate not literally rubbing shoulders with my fellow Houstonians, it's disappointing to see such a small crowd for such an impassioned performer.

Personal Bias: I'm a sucker for thigh-high glitter boots and mean fiddle playing.

The Crowd: Sitting on their hands, unfortunately.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I've seen the Dead ten times."

Random Notebook Dump: "Her band looks like a bunch of film podcasters."
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar