The place: the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia. The date: 10/9/2015. Wicked storms, including a tornado warning, had accented the afternoon and early evening in the region. The commute into the city was nightmarish and unrelenting. About the only saving grace: prepaid parking. I didn’t have to hunt for a space, as one was saved for me.
We made it to our seats by five minutes ’til eight, thinking we’d made it just in time, only to sit for 30 minutes. Finally, the lights dimmed and the band members – three horn players, keyboardist, drummer, bassist and guitarist – took their places, warming up a la the opening of Currency of Man, her latest album (and a candidate for my Album of the Year honors), the seemingly discordant notes gradually blending together for “Don’t Misunderstand.”
Oh, did I mention that Ms. Gardot had strolled stage center by then? Dressed in black, including a head scarf covering her (presumably still-blonde) hair, and dark shades, she looked like a hip ‘70s jazz-R&B singer. She sounded like one, too, stretching and syncopating vocal notes, sans words, in a mesmerizing manner. And when she wrapped that voice around lyrics…wow. Just wow. (I use that phrase a fair bit, I know. C’est la vie.) Highlights were many: the snappy “Same to You,” dreamy “Morning Sun” and propulsive R&B that is “Preacherman” are three.
One of the cool things about Melody: the live performance is an extension of the album, not a note-by-note recreation. For instance, the taut “Preacherman,” which was inspired by the Emmett Till murder, was grittier and rawer, and ended with a guttural call-and-response with the audience; and the hope-filled hymn that is “Morning Sun” built bit by bit, much like the sun inching higher in the clear morning sky, over the course of several minutes.
The first time we saw Melody, fresh from her 2009 My One and Only Thrill album, was like stepping into a film noir – as I wrote in this Of Concerts Past. There are still flashes of noir, too: “Our Love Is Easy” and “Baby I’m a Fool,” stripped down to their essence, were black-and-white delights; and the smokey Currency of Man song “Bad News,” one of the night’s other highlights, also conjured the world inhabited by Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity. (Other tracks on the album do, too, such as “No Man’s Prize.”)
The show closed with “It’s Gonna Come.” By then, everyone in the theater – which, if it wasn’t sold out, was close – was on their feet.
(Here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer review for the show. A.D. Amorosi calls Ms. Gardot “…a goddess, a majestic, complex presence of jazz prowess.”)