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THE STABLES MILTON KEYNES 20th May 2018 Gretchen Peters is a no doubt a gifted storyteller, often covering subjects that many writers wouldn't touch with a 100ft pole. As a spectator, we get to view the cruel world through a lens that sees the beauty in the beast. Peters' ability to confront painful and controversial issues is matched by her skill at embracing the pains of the human condition and sweetening or rubbing salt into those wounds with a simple turn of phrase.

Atmosphere is another critical component in all of her songs. The first bars of her set sees her playing Arguing With Ghosts with just a half spotlight before the band join in. Immediately we're absorbed into her world. Wichita, a brilliant tale of justified revenge, sits alongside The Matador that makes for some compelling lyrical painting early on. While the focus is on her exceptional new album, Dancing With The Beast, there are of course some of her most famous tracks: Five Minutes, On A Bus To St Cloud and a new addition to the 'best of' catalogue, Blackbirds – another dramatic tale of murder. There are minimal breaks between songs, except for Peters tuning up or jokingly commenting on the evening's rising body count. She does stop however, before Lowlands to talk about how recent political events have divided a nation and how her mother's advice to continue to love each other is the only way through. Even though her songs about depression, aging, death, sex, regret and loss may not be everyone's taste, she thankfully doesn't suffer the same melancholia as Morrissey. Perhaps it's cathartic, or maybe we just enjoy a bit of schadenfreude more than we'd like to admit. Her songs see the love and light that can come from the very depths of darkness and despair. When performed live in an intimate setting, you see the very human side of her music – a woman with a guitar and her band telling stories, conveying emotions and enchanting an audience.

Unlike London venues where many people don't get to see the opening act, the type of hardened music fans that The Stables attracts almost

guarantees that they'll be around for the support slot. Kim Richey is known in circles as part of the 'country insurance' movement, and like Peters she's adept at putting the ordinary, everyday moments into the spotlight. Richey joins Peters onstage for a compelling live renditions of Disappearing Act and Say Grace where their pin sharp harmonies from the album are effortlessly replicated. After a deserved standing ovation Peters returns to the stage to perform the country track Why You Been Gone So Long? She then unplugs her guitar and sits on the edge of the stage to serenades us with her final song, Love That Makes A Cup of Tea. It's a refreshing end to a remarkable evening where there's been some arguments with ghosts, a few dances with beasts, but ultimately it's a reminder from the Queen of sad songs that even in the most hopeless of moments in this human journey love will lead the way.

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