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 Merchant's 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. Merchant had a cold. 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 using 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.
Anything that pepped things up a bit would have been welcomed. As would have been a sure-fire cold remedy.