"It's close enough for folk music," veteran singer/songwriter Judy Collins joked after one of the frequent tunings her acoustic guitar required during her almost two-hour show at the Berklee Performance Center last night. But the offhand way in which Collins dismissed such mishaps obviously owed more to her 45 years of performance experience than a haphazard approach to her set.
She had chosen the eve of St. Patrick's Day to unveil her new "Back to Ireland" concert, which celebrates the singer's heritage with almost two dozen songs, including her signature hits and standards she has made her own, many of them Irish.
Collins opened the night dramatically, her satiny voice cutting through the darkened theater with the first verses of "The Lark in the Morning" before she took center stage, looking regal in white satin.
The first set contained a few bumpy moments, as Collins occasionally missed a verse or note as she situated herself onstage and found the rhythm of her anecdote-laden, Irish-themed banter, but she always appeared coolly elegant. And she obviously enjoyed herself as much as her audience did throughout the night.
Immediately rousing the audience to sing along to "Gypsy Rover," Collins strummed her guitar over a simple melody, played by her musical director Russell Walden at the black grand piano. "Barbara Allen" showed off the suppleness of her voice with the dramatic narrative's pretty vocal melodies.
After the spirited "Mountain Girl," she closed the first set by removing her guitar for a solo version of "Danny Boy."
Collins returned after a brief intermission, wearing a black pants suit and kicking up the energy with the rollicking "City of New Orleans," which featured barrelhouse piano. The evening regained its elegant mood as Collins took over the piano to play the rippling melody of "My Father" and, considering the weather, the appropriate "The Blizzard (The Colorado Song)," during which she held the audience rapt with her dramatic delivery. She closed with one of her signatures, "Send in the Clowns."
For an encore, Collins delivered her rousing take on The Beatles' "In My Life," which allowed her voice to unfold with a bluesy fullness.
She ended the night as it had begun, with her voice rising alone from the stage for the traditional song "Wild Mountain Thyme," before moving the audience to join her.
At: Berklee Performance Center, last night