Natalie Merchant brought her 30 Years of Song tour to the beautiful Connor Palace Theatre on Saturday night.  The silver-haired songstress is out supporting her recently released 10-CD Box Set: The Natalie Merchant Collection which includes her new studio album titled Butterfly as well as a Rarities disc.

Merchant is a whimsical troubadour whose voice is as beautiful and distinctive as it was when she first started out as the leader of 10,000 Maniacs in 1983.  She danced and spun around the stage often conducting the band or sometimes just watching the string section perform this beautiful music that she has written over the course of her career.

At the start of the of the third song “Frozen Charlotte,” Merchant said hello to some late arrivals who were seated in the first few rows.  She quipped “Couldn’t get a babysitter tonight, huh?  You only missed ten songs.”  She then looked at them and held up two fingers and mouthed only two.

Being a retrospective but not a greatest hits tour, Merchant and her eight piece band which consisted of a pianist, guitarist, drummer, bassist and a string quartet, played selections from her five solo albums as well as a few tunes from her former band.

At one point during her first set, she said she had to talk about the “hideous cookie jar” that was on stage by the drums.  She and her daughter found it at a thrift store and she became ‘mesmerized” by it’s blue eyes and had to purchase it.  She wasn’t sure if it was a mouse, a bear, or a dog so she called it “trans-species” cookie jar.  She was going to give it away but decided to take it with her on this three week journey, but promised it would not be going home with her.

As the first set ended, Merchant mentioned that “crazy people have taken over our country” and felt she had to address the issue.  However, she wanted to support a cause that both sides could agree upon so she chose the protection of water.   A spokesman for Food and Water Watch was brought out to talk about his organization and he also mentioned that one dollar from every ticket sold on this tour would go to this organization.  This is a woman who truly puts her money where her mouth is.

The second set opened with perhaps her biggest hit “Carnival” from the multi-platinum selling Tigerlilly.  Halfway through the song she called out a patron in the front asking “What are you doing with that phone?  Every third line I’m thinking that and now we all want to know!  Are you texting, checking your stocks?”  It was a funny, but poignant way of letting people know that they should be in the moment.

Since we live in a democracy, Merchant wanted to give the audience a chance to vote on which song should be played next.  She gave the audience the choice of “Motherland” or “Build a Levee.”  After a hearty applause for each song, she decided to play both.

After “This House is on Fire” ended the second set, Merchant and her band came back out for an encore.  Someone in the audience shouted “Rock and Roll!” and Merchant responded “I don’t know any!”  She then sang the first line of Free’s “Alright Now” and her band slowly picked up the beat and together they finished this impromptu song.  At the end Merchant yelled “We did it! We rocked Cleveland!” The crowd roared with approval.

Two 10,000 Maniacs songs “Don’t Talk” and “These Are Days” made their way into the encore and this very mellow, laid back show concluded with “Kind and Generous.”