Archive for the ‘World Cafe Live’ Category

I’d be remiss in writing about Kasey Chambers’ phenomenal show at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia without mentioning the opening act, Garrett Kato. He found himself on the tour, he said, because of Kasey’s grace. She heard him busking on a street corner, bought his CD and, later that same day, wrote about how good he was on Facebook. It took his girlfriend to explain that Kasey is sort of (and sort of not) like Dolly Parton in Australia. They eventually bumped into each other in a recording studio – and now he’s not only opening for her on this tour, but manning the soundboard.

Such small acts of kindness are less small to those on the receiving end, of course, especially one who’s an up-and-coming singer-songwriter. (The terrain has changed so much from the days of yore that, honestly, I wonder sometimes why so many still choose that path. But that’s a post for another day.)

Anyway, I wish I knew the names of all the songs he performed, but aside from a very cool cover of “My Girl” I can’t. Oh, and this one, “The River Mouth” –

When he got to the part where he incorporates “Dancing in the Dark” – well, I have a bruise the size of Nebraska on my arm now thanks to Diane, who was so excited to hear a bit of the Boss that she began punching me.

Obvious by the fact that the clip is from Columbus, I suppose, is that no one in the audience captured this night’s performance (or, at least, uploaded it to YouTube). That’s no reflection on him and his talent, just – speaking for myself – the realities of battery-operated devices. Not only are his songs damn good, but he has a disarming stage presence – and a wondrous grainy texture to his voice. Here’s another song, also from Columbus, that he sang in Philly:

He also reflected on his move, seven years back, from Canada to Australia, which became more-or-less permanent when he met a girl there and they had a baby. He also shared a funny story of writing a sweet song for his mom when she was going through a tough time… only to have the producers of Bad Moms ask to use it in the movie. He then had to call his mother and explain that a payday would have to trump his heartfelt sentiment. (It was funnier when he told it. Trust me.) The song is “Sweet Jane” – not to be confused with the Lou Reed/Velvet Underground classic – and is well worth the listen.

Here’s a version he uploaded to YouTube:

 

How time flies. That’s a cliche, I know, but it seems just yesterday that Diane and I took our seats in an overstuffed couch positioned in front of the small stage at the Point, a now-defunct music club in Bryn Mawr.

The headliner that night, November 6, 2000: Kasey Chambers, a babyfaced 23-year-old country-folk singer from Australia. (Here’s the City Paper’s preview of the show.) The tickets set us back $12 (for the both of us). We were already fans, and were psyched to see her, though neither of us can now remember how we discovered her music. Was it through XPN? A review in a music magazine? A recommendation from a friend? A chance buy? However we came upon her, this much we do recall: She blew us away. Backed by a crack band that included her dad Bill, she delivered a rollicking set that routinely teetered from hilarious to profound, sometimes in the same song.

Two-and-a-half years later, at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, we saw her again at a highly anticipated (by us) show that I consider my Most Disappointing Concert Ever. She had a bad flu and, after a yeoman’s effort, called it quits after about 40 minutes (maybe less) of cutting short most songs – she’d start one only to realize 30 seconds or a minute in that she couldn’t hit the necessary notes. (It’s not the worst show I’ve witnessed, believe it or not. That “honor” goes to the Singer Who Shall Not Be Named.)

Anyway, she played the TLA in November 2004 – but we weren’t aware. So our last memory of her in a live setting was of that Keswick show; not that we held it against her. Her 2004 Wayward Angel album, to my ears, is an alt.country delight; her more-mainstream 2006 album Carnival is a gem; and Rattlin’ Bones, her 2008 release with then-husband Shane Nicholson is home to many neo-country classics, including the title cut. I’d continue down the line and lay praise on the albums that followed – except, somewhere in there, I lost track of her.

It’s easy to do. There’s so much good music, so little time and, in the case of Kasey Chambers, so little American press and radio.

And just as we missed that TLA concert and some of the albums that followed, we may well have missed this show. Natalie Merchant’s tour itinerary had her at Longwood Gardens this same night, July 5th, and I tried to score us tickets in March, but (for reasons too lengthy to go into here) came up empty. You can never truly know what you missed, of course, but as good or great as that show may have been, I’m grateful I missed it.

Quite simply, Kasey Chambers delivered what may well have been – and I don’t say this lightly – my Concert of the Year at the World Cafe Live. It mixed old-school country with rock and blues, humor and pathos, featured her still-crack band (which still includes her dad), and was topped off by her wondrous voice, which bypasses the ears for the heart and soul.

They opened with “Wheelbarrow” from her 2014 Bittersweet album…

…and played songs old and new. One highlight: “A Million Tears,” a song that dates to her classic 2001 Barricades & Brickwalls album.

Another: her cover of Little Feat’s “Willin’,” which builds from an acoustic gem into a full-band opus.

Some of the night’s highlights aren’t (yet) on YouTube – “Oh Grace,” during which Kasey was joined at her microphone by her bandmates, sent shivers down the spine; and “Ain’t No Little Girl,” the second-to-last song of her main set, featured a heart-stopping vocal performance that…wow. Just wow. Here she is at the City Winery in New York a few nights later singing it:

She concluded the main set with “The Captain,” which she wrote in her teens and, she says, is her favorite of all her songs.

The funny (and Dylan-esque) “Talkin’ Baby Blues” followed; and the night finally ended with what may well have been history: three generations of the Chambers clan on stage together for “Barricades & Brickwalls.” (That’s her son Arlo on harmonica.)

For my ears and money, it doesn’t get much better than that voice, its quiver and high notes; those guitars; and those songs, which mix Appalachian soul with a rock ’n’ roll heart. Over the course of the 18-song, 100-minute concert, Kasey Chambers guided us to heaven and hell, and all points in between, and left us wanting more. One can only hope that it’s not another 13 years before she comes around this way again.

The setlist:

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Sid, of course, is Matthew Sweet; and Susie is Susanna Hoffs. They began working together in the 1990s as 2/5s of the band Ming Tea, whose music was featured in the Austin Powers films – no doubt because one of the other members was Austin Powers himself, Michael Myers. The two apparently enjoyed the experience (and each other) so much that they kept on keeping on, eventually releasing the delightful, 1960s-themed Under the Covers, Volume 1 album in 2006 and Volume 2, which mined the music of the 1970s, three years later.

I wrote about both in my review of Volume 3, which navigates the 1980s, a few years back, but the short and sweet of that is this: I loved the first and liked the second. The former was a perfectly cut jewel; the latter was equally polished, yet not without its flaws.

Not flawed enough to stop us from getting tickets to see them in concert, mind you. That said, for whatever reason, we learned of the World Cafe Live show days (weeks?) after it went on sale and wound up stuck in what were, for us, not-so-good seats: at a table a fair distance away from the stage, adjacent to the soundboard.

Susanna, if I remember correctly, had flown into Philly that afternoon, having played with the Bangles the night before in Florida. They hadn’t rehearsed, and for much of the night she referenced lyric sheets – and still messed up the words from time to time, as this video of the night’s second song shows –

But come this night, at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, bad seats and no rehearsals didn’t much matter. Matthew was funny; and Susanna was charming. Their love for the music shone like diamonds, and the show was an absolute delight – even with the vocal intrusions of a rather intoxicated gent who kept yelling for Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” even after they performed it.

Anyway, as the above clip shows, it was just Sweet, Hoffs and guitarist Paul Chastain (of the power-pop band Velvet Crush) on stage.

Here are some more clips:

And what may have been my favorite moment of the night:

Other highlights included delectable renditions of “You’re So Vain” and “Different Drum.” I remember, though, when the show ended, being a bit bummed that they hadn’t attempted my favorite song from Volume 2, the download-only bonus cover of Blondie’s “Dreaming,” or the drop-dead gorgeous version of the Bee Gees’ “Run to Me” from Volume 1:

In any event, the set list (borrowed from a favorable City Paper review) was thus:

I’ve Seen All Good People/Your Move (Yes); Willin’ (Little Feat); Second Hand News (Fleetwood Mac); You’re So Vain (Carly Simon); (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding (Elvis Costello); Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young); Different Drum (Stone Poneys); Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young); She May Call You Up (The Left Banke); Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren); Couldn’t I Just Tell You (Todd Rundgren); All the Young Dudes (Mott The Hoople); And Your Bird Can Sing (The Beatles); Baby Blue (Badfinger); It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob Dylan); Maggie May (Rod Stewart); Back of a Car (Big Star); In the Long Run** (The Carrie Nations); To Sir With Love** (Lulu); In Your Room-Manic Monday** (The Bangles); I’ve Been Waiting** (Matthew Sweet)

(** = Encore)

Rumer closes the show with "Thankful."

Rumer closes the show with “Thankful.”

I wake up early, yet generally don’t leave for work as soon as I should or could. There are occasional days when I’m out the door by 7am, true, but more often I dawdle around online while downing my coffee and holding Tyler, the Cat, on my lap.

By 7:45am, though, I’m almost always on the road and, on good days, make it to the office by 8:30am. On a bad day? Make it closer to 9am. The ride home is usually a little better, especially if I leave closer to 6:30pm than 6. Some nights, though, the commute is interminable – the other day it took 45 minutes to move two miles. The one saving grace? My Pono Player plugs into my car stereo via the aux jack. So whether I’m cruising or crawling, the music flows and, traffic be damned, I enjoy myself – well, as much as can be expected. I’d rather be listening at home.

Some days I click “shuffle” and enjoy the radio-like experience of not knowing which songs will float forth from the speakers. But, as often as not, I’m obsessing over one artist or album. This past week has been like that, as I’ve listened almost exclusively to Rumer, who we saw at the World Cafe Live on Tuesday, April 7th.

I’ve written before about how her music conjures the era when adult pop, soft rock and bell-bottom jeans were in fashion – or, at least, were an acknowledged fashion. Her voice is honey for the ears; and her songs balm for the soul. They mean something.

The night started, however, as many such forays do, with a stop-and-start ride into the city that took much longer than planned, primarily due to rush hour and a spritzing rain, which generally ensures that everyone, everywhere, goes slow. So we arrived 30 minutes late for our 6:30 reservation – eating upstairs this night, not downstairs, due to our front-row seats. (If our seats had been at a table downstairs, we could’ve eaten there.) Yet, there was an upside to the delay: the soundcheck of the Dove & the Wolf, who were performing upstairs later that night.

Never heard them before, but plan to again. In any event, we made it downstairs and to our seats just as the opening act, John Brandoli, began his solo set. He would’ve come across better with a band, I think, but did a fine job on his own. His cover of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” was especially nice.

Rumer didn’t disappoint when she and her band hit the stage. She started with “Intro (Return of Blackbird),” the snippet that leads off her 2014 Into Colour album, but instead of expanding into the uptempo “Dangerous,” she sidestepped into “Am I Forgiven” from her 2010 debut, Seasons of My Soul – one of my Top 10 Albums of All Time, I hasten to add. It’s an amazing set.

I could, and likely should, write an in-depth review of everything that followed. But, really, me saying “It was great” after each song would get old. So, instead, I’ll post this, a picture of the night’s set-list –

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– except, it’s not quite accurate. She substituted the pleading “Take Me as I Am” for the aching “On My Way Home.”

Another highlight: “I Can’t Go for That,” the Hall & Oates classic she sang with Daryl Hall on Live From Daryl’s House a few years back.

“Better Place,” a celebration of everyday people, was even sweeter and more transcendent than on album. I think of it as It’s a Wonderful Life set to song: “You make the world a better place,” she sings – and it’s true. Most of us do, but never realize it.

Her songs are imbued with kindness and a universal love even when, as she often does, she tackles atypical themes in her lyrics – depression, acceptance, fitting in, death and letting go. Her spirit is immense in song, just as it has been in the fleeting moments I’ve talked with her offstage. It would be easy, and must be tempting, to avoid fawning fans such as myself, yet after each of the three shows we’ve seen she’s stuck around, greeting people, signing CDs and set lists, posing for pictures, asking and answering questions, and always, always smiling.

The only downside to the night: our seats. Front row, center, is theoretically perfect, but the reality is that the monitors block part of one’s view; and the overhead lights (as seen in my videos) come close to causing blindness.

(And many thanks to my wife Diane for the perfect shot that tops this post.)