FORT WORTH This show could have used a maniac or two.Singer Natalie Merchant, who once fronted the alt-rock band 10,000 Maniacs, opened a series of three concerts with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra on Friday night at Bass Hall. It was a good match, in that Merchants approach to pop music has always been more sophisticated and mature than many of her peers, so many of her songs made great fodder for the orchestra.But this performance was troubled from the start. Merchant had a cold that gave her voice a throaty and slightly raspy edge. On one song, it was bad enough that she stopped and started again. To her credit, Merchant soldiered on, and on several songs delivered the quality of vocals the crowd came to hear.Almost her entire set was culled from her 2010 album, the massive Leave Your Sleep, a collection of songs about childhood with lyrics taken from the works of poets ranging from e.e. cummings to Robert Louis Stevenson. The tunes sounded great, wrapped in the layers of sound provided by the orchestra under the baton of symphony associate conductor Andres Franco. The arrangements, which made surprisingly good use of the brass section, for example, were often exceptionally interesting. But far too many of the numbers were mopey ballads that made you wonder whether any poet ever had a happy childhood. The sameness was suffocating.Because of that, or maybe because of the cold, there were noticeably fewer patrons in the hall after intermission than before, when the 2,000 seat venue appeared to be almost full.So there were some flashes of the Merchant that the crowd knew from her Maniac days and longer solo career. But there was way too much emphasis on her most recent work.In the overly long first half, especially, it would have been great to hear one of her better-known numbers such as Jealousy, Hey Jack Kerouac, These Are Days or her great cover of Cat Stevens Peace Train (hits she might have eventually gotten to after our deadline chased me from the hall late in the concert). Anything that pepped things up a bit would have been welcomed. As would have been a sure-fire cold remedy.
Fort Worth Symphony
8 tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday