Margo Price at the Bullingdon, Oxford – Lesley Hastings


Thankfully for her fans over here, Nashville based Margo’s love affair with the UK shows no signs of waning, and her third visit to our shores in under a year has been rewarded by yet more sell-out shows including this one in what is fast becoming one of my favourite venues ( thank you, Empty Rooms Promotions! ). Lovers of her ” trad country” style of music, as showcased so well on her acclaimed 2016 album ” Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” packed the 400 capacity venue and the frosty night air was soon forgotten as we waited for Margo and her band, The Price Tags to take to the stage……..yes, a full band tour this time around, and having only seen her play an acoustic set before I was looking forwards to the extra energy that this was bound to bring to her performance. But little did I know just how much energy that was to be!!

A short opening set by Margo’s husband, co-writer and ex-bass player Jeremy Ivey got the night off to a great start, playing acoustic guitar and harmonica he showcased several original songs, with witty lyrics their forte, before a huge roar from the crowd signalled his wife’s arrival on stage. After a false start ( caused by Margo forgetting to plug her guitar in! ) they performed two brand new co-writes,  an instrumental called San Marcos with Margo playing lead guitar for what she told us was a first for her in front of an audience, and a break up song with a difference ( maybe entitled ” Miss Me?). There’s always an extra special connection when partners perform together I feel ( check out JasonIsbell/Amanda Shires and Chris and Morgane Stapleton if you need proof!) and this was certainly the case in this instance.

The headline set kicked off with some fantastic playing by The Price Tags ( lead and bass guitar, drums and pedal steel, with Jeremy adding harmonica on several songs throughout the evening) before Margo joined them to open with ” About To Find Out” swiftly followed by ” Tennessee Song” with it’s soaring vocal introduction and from the start it was clear that this was going to be a really special night. If you were impressed by Margo’s voice on her album then live she manages to move things to a whole new level, whether conveying vulnerability, anger, frustration and all the emotions in between she was always totally credible and throughout the set her pitching was perfection. It is hard for me to remember an artist putting so much heart and soul into a performance, and this was particularly the case on the occasions during the evening when she ditched her guitar ( occasionally swapping it for a tambourine ) enabling her to move around the stage,  fully engage with the audience ( even jumping down to join us at one point!) and put her entire being into her singing. I felt emotionally drained just watching her at times!  I know comparisons between her and Janis Joplin are old hat now,  but that is exactly who sprung to mind last night, particularly during her cover of ” Me and Bobby McGee”  towards the end of the set . Apparently she was being interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine at Newport Folk Festival last year when she got a message that Patti Smith had been held up in traffic and asking if she would like to step in and perform the song with Kris Kristofferson…..needless to say the interview was abruptly terminated! .

Naturally album tracks formed the backbone of the set, for me  “Desperate and Depressed”  and ” Weekender ” deserve a particular mention and I was especially thrilled to hear  ” Four Years of Chances”  live for the first time. Margo gave us some interesting information about her songs’ inspirations, which in case you aren’t aware are mostly true stories from her colourful life! I was excited to hear another new song thrown into the main set,  and with the opening line ” You left me with a busted lip” it was clear that this slow, lilting waltz ( possibly called ” You Told Me With Your Eyes “?) was going to be another heartwrencher of a break up song!  If the new material showcased at this gig is a taste of her next album, can I pre-order it now please?

Covers were, as usual, odes to her music heros and inspirations, including Merle Haggard’s ” Red Bandana”, Johnny Cash’s ” Big River”,  Dolly Parton’s ” Jolene” ( a beautiful, stripped back acoustic version) and the aforementioned Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”  (it was Dolly and Janis’ birthdays the day before this concert).

Commenting during her set how ” quiet, attentive and respectful” the audience was (and that ……”we Americans aren’t used to it”) I struggle to understand how anyone witnessing musicians of this calibre could be anything else! The intensity of the entire performance was just incredible, and I feel privileged to have witnessed  Margo and her musicians play such a small venue as sadly ( for me, not for her!! ) I think it won’t be long before shows like this will be a thing of the past as her popularity continues to grow. An early curfew meant no time to thank her personally but maybe this review may somehow reach her so just in case it does, thank you Margo from the bottom of my heart!
This was my first gig of 2017, and it certainly set the bar extremely high for the rest of the year……….I somehow feel sorry for the other artists I’ve already booked to see!!

Review written by Lesley Hastings

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