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Amanda Shires @ Milkboy.

January 13, 2014

Text and images by Kyle Bagenstose.

Amanda Shires is like your aunt at the holiday party.

No, not the weird older one who waddles up to you with bulging eyes and asks if you’re still dating that person you broke up with eight years ago.

No, she’s the other one: the cool young one who hasn’t been at a holiday party for seven years because she’s been off having adventures and riding motorcycles around the country. The one who sips healthily from a wine glass the entire night and occasionally looks over to you, with a smirk that says, “Somehow, we’re the normal ones.”

Indeed Shires, a country singer-songwriter from Lubbock, Tx., had two companions on stage at Milkboy on Thursday night. The first, Stephanie Dickinson, provided plenty of musical pop from her upright bass to back Shires’ guitar strumming and fiddle plucking throughout the night. But it was the bottle of Gnarly Head wine on the table behind them that provided much of the extra entertainment.

“So we were in D.C. last night, and there was this barroom brawl,” said Shires, slightly slurring between sips from her wine glass after opening with a mesmerizing solo rendition of her song “Kudzu.” “I’d never seen anything like it….this one guy had the other in a UFC chokehold. So I thought maybe I’d start with a quieter number tonight. Maybe this is how people act when it’s cold? I don’t know. I’m not promoting violence either.”

It was interludes like this one, often lasting minutes between songs, which displayed the southern charm of the twang-voiced Shires throughout her performance. They offered stark contrasts to the music of Shires, which alternates between beautiful and dark.

Utilizing a number of instruments including the guitar, violin, and fiddle, Shires often plucks her way through songs as she delivers lyrics with a unique mix of imagery and honesty, occasionally breaking out into a striking solo on any one of the instruments.

Ahead of her song “Bulletproof,” Shires told the story of how she met a man named Tiger Bill in Tampa.

“He walked up to me smelling of weed and handed me a brown bag,” Shires recalled. “He says, ‘Open it,’ and I do and see whiskers and claws and what looked to be dried blood. He says, ‘Look I know you might throw this out but at least keep the tiger claw.’ And I said to myself, ‘What is he smoking?'”

The laughter in the room quickly subsided as Shires launched into the moody “Bulletproof,” a song where Shires morbidly muses about ways people could try and murder her if the tiger claw had indeed made her bulletproof. But just under the surface of the fantastical concept is what seems to be a longing from Shires to escape whatever has pained her in the past.

The show ebbed and flowed in this way: songs like “Shake the Walls” featuring discordant violin draws and the insanity of a romantic breakdown, followed by a story about Shires drunk-tweeting with Sir Mix-A-Lot. Then Shires telling the audience to buy shots of Rumplemintz for Dickinson and musing how difficult it would be to wake up for her 9 a.m. WXPN session the next morning, followed by her closing of “Box Cutters,” a song about different ways to end your life.

It was a strange juxtaposition, but an endearing one that drew laughter, hollers and plenty of applause throughout the night. Afterward, Shires hopped off the stage to converse with members of the crowd, wine glass still in hand.

Opening in support of Shires was August John Lutz II, of the Philly-based Levee Drivers, who offered a strong solo folk performance that featured his playing the guitar and harmonica, and Chelsea Mitchell, who also performed a solo acoustic set and turned heads in the room on the high notes.

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