The folks at the Majestic Theatre were so sure that Kathleen Edwards would put on a good show that they offered a rare money-back guarantee. After Edwards played two songs, if an audience member wasn't into it, they could head back to the box office and get their $20 back.
Well, to reverse an old adage, a fool and his money are soon reunited. Because anybody who wanted their money back from that incredible show Thursday was an idiot.
Over the course of four albums, including this year's "Voyageur," the Canadian has proved herself to be one of the best female singer-songwriters around. Her sweet voice sounds like honey dribbled across a saw blade as she sings wrenching, deeply personal songs of love and loss; the songs on "Voyageur" address her recent divorce unflinchingly
But if you think she lacks an filter in her lyrics, you should just see her play live. Edwards hurls herself headfirst into the emotional currents of every song, whether it's the stormy rock of "Going to Hell" or the anguish of the gentle "Buffalo." She is just fearless, and by the end of nearly two hours of music, closing the main set with "Six O'Clock News" and "Back To Me," had the audience roaring in support.
Edwards displayed a vivid affection for Wisconsin; she spent some time in the state working with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on "Voyageur," and the two were a couple, although that's over with now. She joked about a fan at a previous show who kept asking if Vernon was there, saying she should have said he was working the merch table to help sell T-shirts.
But she also sang a song, "I'm So Cool," that she recorded for "Voyageur" but didn't make the album, perhaps because it just cut too close to the bone. She sang it, solo on acoustic guitar, and it was just a heartbreaking tale of trying to pick up the pieces and move on after a failed relationship. It seemed like the song held a power over her that even she couldn't quite explain, and when it was over and the floodlights faded a little, you could see her heave a deep sigh. "Sometimes you work on a song, and you work on yourself, and you think you'll be farther along than you are," she said.
Which is not to say the show was in any way a downer; Edwards' songwriting hits notes of defiance and resilience just as often as despair and regret. Her full band adeptly moved from bar-burning roots rock to eloquent country-folk, and at times Edwards looked to be having a ball, grinning from ear to ear as she teased one guitar player mid-solo or kissed the other on the cheek.
She also has a fantastic, bawdy sense of humor, telling tales of one skinny Canadian musician who's been futilely trying to win her over. ("I have a dating rule. I never date anyone whose pants I can't fit into.") She also alluded to some behind-the-scenes wrangling to get her at the Majestic, and thanked co-owner Matt Gerding for his perseverance.
"I got into a little bit of a pissing match with my agent because I really wanted to play this club," said Edwards, which is as good a testimonial as the Majestic could want on its fifth-anniversary weekend. Hopefully she won't have to fight very hard to come back soon.