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12/11/04 John Greene Hall, Smith College, Northampton, MA

Setlist (courtesy donnabase.com)
Funkyside, Ancient Arms, Positive Friction, Tides of Time, Killing A Man, Blue Sky, These Are Strange Days, Everything is Alright, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, These Are Better Days, Family Picture, Ring of Fire, If You Only Could, 40 Days & 40 Nights
Encore: It's The Call, Went Down to the River

Photos of this show

A "Greatest Hits" set
for a good cause

Normally, I wouldn't have bothered making the trip to Mass. for what I knew was going to be a shorter-than-usual set performed in front of an audience that ain't all Herd. But the show was for a good cause--a benefit for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts--and it fell on my 40th birthday, so I knew there was no place else I'd rather be.

My wife and I got to Northampton real early, so early we parked directly in front of the venue, a nice theater on the campus of Smith College. By the time we enjoyed an Indian food dinner and the prerequisite preshow strong cup of coffee, the venue had opened and people we starting to trickle in.

So we dropped off the boxes of dry cereal we'd brought to donate and staked out some seats in the front row on the Kathy side. The first 10 or so rows in the center section were "golden circle" seats for those who paid $40 for tickets but the view from where we were was just fine. When the opening band, Winterpills, hit the stage, there were maybe 100 people in a theater that could probably hold about 1500. It would never get very full, and the balcony was closed.

I didn't care much for Winterpills' power pop, though my wife enjoyed their vocals. The Holmes Brothers' blues was a lot more to my liking, and drew a decent response from the crowd, which by now was starting to fill in a little.

Before Donna came on, we watched a video detailing the Food Bank's plans for expansion. Then the woman who'd organized the benefit, Helen Harrison, came onstage and said a few kind words about Food Bank supporter and Herdster Liz O'Brien, to whom the show was dedicated.

It was strange to see Donna up there on that big ole stage, so far from the Herd, and it didn't help that the volunteer ushers vigilantly enforced a pointless "dancing only in front of your seat" rule.

The band seemed relaxed and comfortable as they rolled through the first few numbers, and it came as no surprise that they went with the tried and true. Funkyside, Ancient Arms, Positive Friction, and Tides of Time were all well played, but the vibe was different from that of one of their typical 3-hour monster sets. The audience ate it up nonetheless--if this was the only Donna show you were going to see all year, you were getting a good one. I seized the opportunity to dart up front and snap a few photos, but thanks to the all-too-serious ushers, a few would be all I'd get.

I was pleasantly surprised when they went into It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry. I was lucky enough to have been in attendance when they played this song for the first time in Johnson City back in Nov., and they were obviously still having fun with it.

A few songs later Tara took the spotlight for If You Only Could. Even though I'd just seen them do this song two nights earlier (and those of you who went to the Narrows on Friday saw it three nights in a row), I was still loving it. I don't know exactly what this song means to Tara but from the way she sang it, she was obviously feeling it.

The set-closer was 40 Days & 40 Nights, which is always a lot of fun but was a little hard to dance to properly and stay in the designated area directly in front of my seat, if you know what I mean. It's the Call was an excellent, gentle choice for an encore, and would have been fine by itself, but the band chose to add Went Down to the River to leave everyone on an upbeat note.

At one hour 45 minutes Donna's set had lasted longer than I was expecting, and it was cool to see them place in a setting that was quite different from the bars I usually see them in.

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