Tift Merritt is adorable, blonde and obscenely talented. And these days, on a Tuesday night at the Tractor, that combination means a crowd of approximately 100 people. That doesn't mean Seattle is lame, it just means Seattle has lame taste in music. After all, the town turned out in droves to watch the Presidential debate, to the point where it was tough to watch the Tigers game from a stool.
But the upside of elbow room is when a deaf guy dances.
"Hearing impaired" is a safer term from a politically correct perspective. But as a guy who attended two dozen Grateful Dead shows and always tried to emulate the signer's righteous moves at stage right, I'm a believer of the notion that deaf can dance. In the case of Tift's show, the deaf dancer was an attractive, short Latino gentleman. His partner was a middle-aged blonde; it was difficult to tell if she was a Helen Hunt in The Sessions type or the hearing-impaired guy's true love. But what at first struck those in attendance as an annoying exploration of space quickly flowered into the hardest evidence of an artist's relevance. Their passion for Merritt's gorgeous music was plainly evident and ultimately charming. When you can move people who can't hear very well into motion and emotion, you must be striking a chord.
I can't say much about Merritt that I haven't said before, except to note that whatever window to super-stardom that might have been cracked open before her new album hit the streets is now shut. But that's not so bad. Her career arc to date is analogous to that of the great Kathleen Edwards, whose relationship with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon may temporarily deliver her to Showbox-sized stages.
Merritt's performance left me with an odd question in my head: Is there such a thing as being too good? And by good, I don't mean great. Merritt is consistently very good, but only when she slows things to a dirge--which she doesn't do frequently enough--is she truly great. "Sunday" remains her finest song, only she doesn't realize it (it wasn't played last night), because all her songs are essentially equally good. An artist this reliably excellent should be a product people buy, only I fear that's not what America yearns for anymore. How else to explain why Mitt Romney's still in contention?