Archive for the ‘Concert’ Category

Late last Sunday afternoon, we were hoverin’ beneath an awning on Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, Pa., trying to find a dry place to stand. A heavy rain was falling off and on, and the Ardmore Music Hall had yet to open its doors. But it seemed we heard a voice calling “it’s all right” from inside. It was a rainy (and humid) night in Pennsylvania, in other words, a few hours before Shelby Lynne’s show in “almost Philly” – aka a suburb about eight miles outside of the city line. It felt like it was raining all over the world.

It was a rainy night in Pennsylvania, but a sun shone inside the hallowed hall.

I’ve seen many shows in my lifetime. I’ve raved about most. (To quote the bard Van Morrison, “rave on, John Donne, rave on.”) But I’ve witnessed few artists as magnetic as Shelby Lynne. Accompanied by Ben Peeler, she wove a sublime 90-minute set that mixed and matched memorable songs from throughout her career. The dramatic “Leavin’,” about walking out on a loved-one, was an early highlight. It sounded like a long-lost Dusty in Memphis demo, just about.

Another highlight: “Johnny Met June.” While introducing it, Shelby mentioned the many legendary performers she’s been lucky enough to meet and get to know, including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Johnny Cash, and asked, “Who are we going to replace these special cats with?” 

I should mention that, until this night, we’d never seen Shelby on her own – an oddity, to be sure, that has more to do with time, circumstance and ignorance of her Philly-area appearances than anything else. Astute readers will remember however that Diane and I saw Shelby and her sister Allison Moorer deliver a sterling set at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia last August, and were so besotted that we saw them again at the Sellersville Theater in February of this year. The main difference between those shows and this one: she shared the spotlight at those concerts while she was the spotlight here.

One case in point: the performance of “Looking at the Moon/Revolving Broken Heart,” a sublime song from her film Here I Am (which I plan to review in the weeks ahead). She sings “I can’t find the beauty in dreaming/I wake up believing you’re leaving…” and whether she was in character or not, you believe her. It’s a stark, beautiful ballad that quivers and aches. (At present, it’s available on the movie soundtrack – vinyl only – that Shelby’s selling at her shows and via her website. It’s well worth the purchase, as is the film itself.)

“Where I’m From” (aka “Alabama Frame of Mind”) and “Black Light Blue” were both, as one might expect, wonderful…

…as was what followed: A marriage proposal. No – not to or from Shelby, but from one fan to another. Very sweet. “Dreamsome” will forever be their song.

But the proposal wasn’t as sweet as Shelby’s song for Allison, “I’ll Hold Your Head.”

As I said at the outset, I tend to rave about performances that I enjoyed, so I won’t clamor on. But know this: Shelby drew the audience in, and held us in her sway. There were songs she didn’t sing that I would have liked to have heard – anything from her Dusty covers album, Just a Little Lovin’, for instance, especially “Breakfast in Bed” or “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore”; “The Killin’ Kind” or “Off My Mind” (another Here I Am song that was released as a single), both of which Diane hoped would make the set; or her poignant rendition of “Rainy Night in Georgia” (a bonus track on her Suit Yourself CD), which seemed to fit the night. But, that said, there weren’t any songs that I wished she hadn’t sung, or would have swapped out.

As I tweeted after we got home, “She should not be missed when she comes to your town. One of the most hypnotic shows I’ve had the pleasure to witness. (And she let my wife hug her afterwards, so there’s that.)” And I know it wasn’t just me. Diane says she now places Shelby in the same class as Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder as a live performer. Which says a lot.

One last thing: Pete Donnelly opened. In the past, he’s played with NRBQ and he still plays with the Figgs (and, in that capacity, once backed Graham Parker). The highlight of his short set was “American Town,” the title track to an EP he released a few years back. For part of the song, he eschewed the mike and sang from the edge of the stage. It was riveting.

Shelby’s set:

  1. 10 Rocks
  2. I’m Alive
  3. Leavin’
  4. Down Here
  5. Johnny Met June
  6. Life Is Bad
  7. She Knows Where She Goes
  8. Sold the Devil (Sunshine)
  9. Looking at the Moon/Revolving Broken Heart
  10. Lookin’ Up
  11. Why Can’t You Be
  12. Where I’m From
  13. Black Light Blue
  14. (Marriage Proposal)/Dreamsome
  15. I’ll Hold Your Head 
  16. Iced Tea

[Update: My review of Here I Am, the film and soundtrack, is here.]

British singer-songwriter Lucy Rose delivered a spellbinding set at the Boot & Saddle in South Philly on Saturday night, the last stop of her month-long North American tour. Her voice is ethereal and otherworldly, and her humor is wry and self-deprecating. (For proof of the latter, she apologized for bringing folks out on a Saturday night, when people should be out having fun, to hear her downcast songs.)

Perhaps because it was the tour’s last night, she veered from her planned setlist and took requests from what looked to be a packed house. That led her to perform “Scar” and two songs that, honestly, I would have been disappointed if she hadn’t sung: “Floral Dresses” and “No Good at All” from her 2017 Something’s Changing album.

“No Good at All” was requested by many folks in the audience, including Diane and myself. After singing “Morai,” a stirring song about fate, Lucy rushed to the edge of the stage and gave Diane a choice: “Second Chance” or “No Good at All.” The former is a great song, but the choice was a no-brainer – “No Good at All” is pure melodic bliss. As a result, we were treated to a wondrous, slightly slowed-down rendition of it that morphed into a sweet audience sing-along toward the end. (I’d upload my video to YouTube, but the autofocus went wonky and turned Lucy into a blotchy blur.)

The main set concluded with “Shiver,” the song that introduced Lucy to the anime crowd. That, too, turned into a sweet sing-along.

The non-encore encore was a hypnotic “Nightbus.” (I describe it that way due to the Boot & Saddle’s set-up, which requires performers to descend into the audience to leave the stage.) In all, it was a hypnotic set that conjured the early ’70s. Her vocals are reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s while her songs conjure Neil Young’s.  

The only negative: the set’s brevity. In all, she was on stage for about an hour. Given that she possesses a catalog of wondrous songs, such as “Soak It Up” from Something’s Changing, the recent “All That Fear” single, and past classics “Nebraska” and “Don’t You Worry,” she could have easily stayed on stage for another 15 or 20 minutes.

(Just as an aside, one day she should tour with the Staves – all four on stage together for 100 minutes or so, alternating songs and harmonies.)

The set (I may be missing a song):

  1. Is This Called Home
  2. Strangest of Ways
  3. Middle of the Bed
  4. Scar
  5. Floral Dresses
  6. Moirai
  7. No Good at All
  8. Love Song
  9. For You
  10. Shiver
  11. Nightbus

I witnessed the past, present and future of American music in South Philly last night, at a club called the Boot & Saddle. There, on a small stage that doesn’t have a proper exit, Arizona-born singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews and her crack band integrated country, rock, folk, R&B and gospel into a sonic whole that echoed both the ages and the soul. It’s the sound not of a generation, but of the generations.

If that sounds hyperbolic, so be it. But consider this: Just as A.P. Carter disappeared into the Appalachian Mountains to mine (and write) songs that provided sustenance to a hungry nation during the Great Depression, and he did, in the decades since every artist of note has learned from, and been inspired by, the music that came before, and provided an intangible that made bad times less bad and good times even better. It’s a never-ending chain, in a sense. Courtney Marie, to my ears, is the latest link.

It’s more than just her, however: It’s also us, the fans and listeners. Just as a Bruce Springsteen concert reinvigorated a dispirited Jon Landau in 1974, and inspired the famed (and oft-misinterpreted) line, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen,” so, too, did last night’s show for me. It was everything good not just about music, but about life.

When we saw Courtney Marie at the same venue last year, the crowd was sparse. Last night wasn’t sold out, but looked to be at least double – about 100, give or take. (The venue holds 150, I think.) Which is to say, word is getting out. A guy next to us discovered her last week by way of NPR’s First Listen, for example, and then heard her on WXPN. He compared her vocal prowess to Linda Ronstadt’s.

The set opened with “Two Cold Nights in Buffalo,” in which Courtney Marie turns a snow-enforced stay in the Nickel City into a sharp-eyed ode about the gentrification of American life. Our cities and towns are gradually becoming cookie-cutter replicas of one another, trading their unique charms for the same (or similar) chain stores and restaurants, cafes and overpriced housing. The mom-and-pop stores of yore are fading away.

Another highlight came early: “Near You,” a hypnotic song Courtney wrote seven or eight years ago, but only pressed to vinyl last year. Dillon Warnek was simply phenomenal on guitar; he reminded me of Gurf Morlix and/or Kenny Vaughan.

“Rough Around the Edges,” one of my favorites from May Your Kindness Remain, simply ached. At one point or another, everyone says something they wish they could take back, wants to escape by sleeping late, and feels cursed by questions we can’t answer.

“Border” was beyond powerful. It reminded me, in a weird way, of when we saw Lucinda Williams and band jam out on “Joy” in the ’90s. (Very different lyrically, yes, but similar in the muscular arrangement.)

The title cut to Courtney’s May Your Kindness Remain album was akin to attending a revival meeting (which I say without having been to one).

The main set ended on a Stax-like note with a song that will be released as a b-side in the near future. Think Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y” as sung by Aretha, only grittier and funkier. (Both Courtney and Dillon told us the title during the meet-and-greet, but our ever-advancing age guaranteed that it slipped our mind by the time we reached the car.) I wish I’d recorded it, but didn’t simply because…

When Courtney Marie and band went to leave the stage after said Stax-Like Song, they realized they couldn’t without walking through the audience. (The stage door at the Boot & Saddle is literally next to the stage, not on the stage.) So they played the encore without actually forcing us to play the suspense game.

Courtney Marie then met with fans at the merchandise table (Diane got a nice T-shirt; I got the vinyl for “Near You.”) We ran into Dillon in the bar itself, and had a great conversation with him about music past and present. He’s a great guy in addition to being a great guitarist.

Anyway, there was no setlist to steal (or take a picture of), so the set is based on what I recorded, snippets of songs from my iPhone’s “live” pictures and memory. I may be missing a song or two, and likely misplaced “Kindness of Strangers” in the set order.

  1. Two Cold Nights in Buffalo
  2. I’ve Hurt Worse
  3. Table for One
  4. Near You
  5. How Quickly Your Heart Mends
  6. Long Road Back to You
  7. Rough Around the Edges
  8. Honest Life
  9. This House
  10. Kindness of Strangers
  11. Border
  12. May Your Kindness Remain
  13. Stax-Like Song
  14. Irene (encore)

Any year that I see Juliana Hatfield in concert is a good year. And a year when I see her twice? Logic, at least my logic, says it should be good times two – i.e., great. And to see Juliana cover not one but two Olivia Newton-John songs while backed by Wesley Stace & the English UK? The surreal sweetness of the moment just can’t be beat. For that alone, 2017 should be damn near the best year of them all.

But this has not been a normal year. It’s as if someone spiked the water supply with mescaline in January and the hallucinations have yet to end. I’ll sidestep diatribes about America’s answer to Hugo Chavez, the human Scrooge McDucks that call themselves Republicans, and the leches that call themselves men, and instead share this:

When the music starts, we just slip away – just like a river rollin’ down…

Live music often has a more visceral impact than via CD, LP or digital download. It’s an immediate connection. You feed off the performer, he or she feeds off you and … you’re there, wherever there is, not stoned but STONED, and not from drink or drugs but from the music itself. The worries of the world cease to be, albeit for a few hours, and when you leave the venue you feel spiritually renewed.

From Lights Out in January to Patterson Hood (of the Drive-by Truckers) this past Thursday, and including such stalwarts as Graham Parker, Garland Jeffreys and Shawn Colvin, we enjoyed more live music this year (21 shows by my count) than the past few years combined. Some shows were good, others great, and a handful absolutely sublime.

First, though, a caveat: As all things “best of” on this blog, I work from a deck stacked by my aging demographic, idiosyncratic tastes, and budget. I enjoy singer-songwriters with folk-rock and/or country overtones, and delight in discovering new artists within that realm, and generally rock out to the same artists I’ve rocked out to forever and a day, including (but not limited to) Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, the Kinks, Joan Jett, Paul Weller and Juliana Hatfield, among others.

And, with that, here’s Remember December, Vol. I: Concerts of the Year. (Click through to read my original reviews.)

1) Paul Weller with Lucy Rose at the TLA, 10/4/17. This show fell in what was the awful week that included the mass shooting at a country-music festival in Las Vegas and the passing of Tom Petty. Perhaps that explains the jubilation I felt at being able to forget, if only for a few moments, and let go. And, too, it was just a killer concert.

2) Kasey Chambers at the World Cafe Live, 7/5/17. Breathtaking. That’s the only word for this show, which found the Aussie country-music maven weaving heartfelt odes from thin air. Even now, watching this video, I’m stunned at how good she is.

3) The Juliana Hatfield Three at the Boot & Saddle, 4/24/17; and Juliana Hatfield with Wesley Stace & the English UK at the Ardmore Theater, 10/12/17. When formulating this list, I found myself going back and forth as to which of these shows should be third or fourth on my list. At the Boot & Saddle, Juliana and the Three personified “brutal grace.” It was raw, raucous, loud and great, and – given than the bulk of the setlist was Pussycat-heavy, cathartic. The only strike against it were the muffled vocals.

The Ardmore show, both in her solo set and when backed by the English UK, was near the reverse, with an expansive set list that included such gems as “Slow Motion” and “Somebody’s Waiting for Me,” and way-cool covers of two Olivia Newton-John songs. Here’s one:

Watching that clip again, just now, I couldn’t help but to smile.

Anyway, both shows spoke to me in equal measure. Her songs, new, old, rocking, mid-tempo or ballad, are ingrained in my soul. So, why rank one above the other? For the purposes of this list, the two concerts are a tie…

4) Courtney Marie Andrews at the Boot & Saddle, 5/9/2017. As I wrote in my review, this was as magical and mesmerizing a concert that I’ve had the pleasure to witness in my concert-going career. Courtney reminds me of Shawn Colvin circa the early and mid-‘90s, who synthesized a wide swath of influences into a hypnotic whole.

5) The Staves at the World Cafe Live, 3/9/2017. What did I love about this show? Everything! Within moments of its start, it felt as if we’d stepped through a time portal to some point in the early ‘70s. About the only thing missing: bell-bottom jeans.

And, finally…honorable mentions: Bruce Springsteen on Broadway was the definition of compelling, but not a conventional concert due to the monologues. Thus, I’m not including it within my Top 5 (though, if I did, it wouldn’t knock Weller from the top spot). Also, Garland Jeffreys at the World Cafe Live Upstairs was grand; Lulu at the Sellersville Theater was wondrous; Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer at the World Cafe Live were sublime; and Tift Merritt at the World Cafe Live was utterly captivating.

As Tift sings, “Love Soldiers On.” And it does.