Posts Tagged ‘Ardmore Music Hall’

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.]

Three weeks back, trumpets blared, timpani rumbled, clouds parted, and an angel came forth to announce that Philadelphia’s favorite Brit wordsmith (or, at least, one of them), Wesley Stace – aka the artist formerly known as John Wesley Harding – and his band, the English UK, were to play the Ardmore Music Hall…on the same night as a Philadelphia Eagles matchup against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football. With him: Juliana Hatfield.

Was he opening? Was she? The social-media advertisements, as well as the poster outside the venue, never quite made it clear. Their names were in equal-sized type; and hers was preceded by a plus sign. Was she solo or with the Three, as at the Boot & Saddle earlier this year? (The brutal grace of that night will stay with me forever.) The Juliana Hatfield Three Facebook page was advertising the show, after all. Those questions of a thousand dreams haunted my nights and days – well, not really. We had our tickets and, either/or, it was a guaranteed good time.

But in football-crazed Philadelphia, unless one is Springsteen, Joel or similar stadium-name headliner, scheduling a last-minute show against the Eagles – especially when they’re doing well, which they are – is asking for a sparse turnout.

Which, this night, it was.

Stace and the English UK started the night with a taut 45-minute set that mixed new and old songs, including “Making Love to Bob Dylan,” the wondrous “Canterbury Kiss” and selections from his recent Jayhawks-backed Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding album. He also offered humorous anecdotes and explained (as had the bartender when we arrived) that he and the band would join Juliana after her solo set. The show came about, he said, a few weeks earlier while he was walking in the Philly neighborhood of Fishtown. It dawned on him that, with a day off between two of his Cabinet of Wonders shows, they might as well make use of it. He texted the Ardmore booker, who texted back, and voila! A gig was born.

Juliana took to the stage at about 9:15 and, once her electric guitar was plugged in, began her solo set with “Butterflies” and “If I Wanted Troubles.” She hit a speed bump in “Parking Lots,” first messing up the lyrics and then being out of tune. After one more attempt, she cut it short and moved on. “Slow Motion,” the song I most hoped to hear, was absolutely sublime:

After that song, she switched to acoustic and…in what’s fast becoming my favorite overused phrase, “wow. Just wow.” On electric, especially at first, she seemed a little off – almost as if she was waiting for a band to kick in. And, too, there were moments near the end of songs when she’d stop, applause would start, and then she’d strum a few more bars. On acoustic, there was none of that. “Choose Drugs” was, in a word, mesmerizing, and “I Want to Be Your Disease” simply venomous.

And then the English UK joined her for “Shining On” and then Stace returned…can I say “wow” again? The band ably accented Juliana’s material. “Somebody Is Waiting for Me” was beyond any and all superlatives I can think of.

And “Wonder Why,” one of the stellar tracks from this year’s Pussycat, just rocked.

At that stage, I would’ve been happy if Juliana and Stace said their farewells – it was a great show, already. But what followed put it in the stratosphere: Juliana played two songs from her forthcoming album…an Olivia Newton-John tribute album (!) tentatively titled Hopelessly Devoted to Liv.

While I’m sure that Wesley Stace never once imagined himself singing the immortal lyrics of “let me hear your body talk” prior to this night, hey, all I can say is this: shivers reverberated up and down my spine. I found the performances phenomenal and fun.

Diane, on the other hand, says they were “interesting”; and, tongue hopefully in cheek, blames me for the turn of events. Way back in 2012, in a “20 Questions” for the covers album, I posed a wordy question to Juliana that (for brevity’s sake) I trimmed for the published Q&A. The full exchange read:

Me: In your book, you write about liking ONJ as a kid. If you were to cover one of her songs, which would it be? (I can hear you singing – and having a hit with –  “A Little More Love” or “Deeper Than the Night.” Not that that should influence the song selection for your current covers project).

Juliana: I don’t think I could do any of her songs. I thought about [it] for this covers album but nothing feels authentic when I try to do it. She had such a sweet voice and a personality and could bring to life songs that I wouldn’t be able to bring to life. And some of her songs are really goofy.

Aside from the hard-hearted, anyone who came of age in the late ‘70s and/or early ‘80s can likely attest to the powerful charm of Olivia’s songs and albums (one of which is a future Essentials pick) of that era. True, those tunes primarily dealt with matters of the heart. Sometimes they were sweet, sometimes goofy, but they were rarely saccharine. And when I hear them today? They take me back – in a good way.

That Juliana is paying tribute to ONJ and those songs – it’s cool.

Here’s the set in full:

Solo Electric:

  1. Butterflies
  2. If I Wanted Troubles
  3. Parking Lots (cut short)
  4. June 6th
  5. Everybody Loves Me But You
  6. I Picked you Up
  7. Slow Motion

Solo Acoustic:

  1. Christmas Cactus
  2. Choose Drugs
  3. I Want to Be Your Disease
  4. Evan

Juliana & English UK:

  1. Shining On
  2. Somebody Is Waiting for Me
  3. Wonder Why
  4. Have You Never Been Mellow
  5. Physical
  6. My Sister