Posts Tagged ‘Live’

In many respects, the magic and mystery of music has melted away much like a tape left atop a dashboard on a hot summer’s day. And since most folks never bought pricey blocks of Maxell XLII-S and TDK-SA cassettes, or even the cut-rate packs of Realistic wonders, they don’t care. Tapes, and the music therein, hold little value to them. (This is a half-assed metaphor, I know, but bear with me.) To them, mixtapes (and even mixCDs) are a thing of yore that they never bothered with except, occasionally, as unwanted gifts.

Growing up, I believed there were two types of music fans: AM and FM. The AM set enjoyed the hit singles, while the FM variant immersed itself in albums, and that belief held even when, for music, the AM band faded to staticky silence. I’ve come to realize that I was wrong. Simply put, there are those who care deeply for music, be it the latest hits or yesteryear’s album tracks; and there are those who care deeply for background noise.

A college professor of mine, way back in the early ‘80s, observed that many people are afraid of silence – and not just when around others. He said they turned on the TV or radio when they arrived home out of an unconscious fear of being alone with their thoughts. It makes sense. In today’s world, of course the “TV or radio” usually translates to a smart phone or computer, and the noise accompanies them while they surf the modern equivalent of tabloid newspapers (aka social media).

They don’t buy music. They don’t rent it via subscription tiers. Instead, they click-click-click into readymade playlists on ad-supported streaming sites and leave it at that. A simple search within those same sites often gives one the ability to hear specific songs after commercials, too, so music – at the top tier, at any rate – has become commercial bait. (In a way, the illegal-downloading boom spurred by Napster and its clones assured that entire generations would know of no other experience.)

That my Top 5s feast at the same trough I decry is an irony not lost on me. And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Relics of a Bygone Age…

1) Bruce Springsteen – “Thundercrack.” A 1973 performance by Bruce and an early incarnation of the E Street Band from the Ahmanson Theater, Los Angeles.

2) Jackson Browne – “Running on Empty.” A Joel Bernstein photo montage set to the classic song, which – along with its album namesake – was reissued in remastered form on July 5th.

3) Lucy Rose – Live at Decoy Studios. Lucy’s artistry harkens back to a time when fans dropped LPs onto their turntables and studied the lyric sheets. This short set of No Words Left songs features “Conversation,” “Solo(w),” “Song After Song” and “Treat Me Like a Woman.” 

4) Caroline Spence – “Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes.” The sterling singer-songwriter owes a big debt to ’90s-era Sheryl Crow on this Mint Condition tune. (The video was released on July 9th.)

5) Anna Calvi – Live at Salle Pleyel. The fine folks at ARTE Concert have shared this intoxicating concert, filmed earlier this year in Paris, from the always mesmerizing Ms. Calvi, who seems to have stepped through a time portal from an era when music mattered for art’s sake, not commercial gain. (It helps, of course, that she channels everyone from David Bowie to Maria McKee (circa Life Is Sweet). 

Live music is better. At its best, in concert, time trips over itself and lands you smack dab in that sweet spot of spacetime where the earth doesn’t whirl, clocks don’t tick, and nothing much matters beyond the rhythms and melodies rolling like the sonic waves they are from stage to shore.

Such was the case, at any rate, when Caroline Spence and her band headlined the Cat’s Cradle back room in Carrboro, N.C., on June 5th – our first time at the legendary club. For those unaware of her, which I suspect is many, she’s a country-tinged singer-songwriter whose music conjures, among others, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Sheryl Crow, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams.

“The Long Haul,” about what Merle Haggard dubbed “White Line Fever” (aka life on the road), opened her 80-minute (give or take) set in perfect fashion, given that she and her band drove straight from Nashville for the gig (a 7 1/2-hour journey according to Apple Maps): “Town after town and it’s all the same/They say expecting something different’s the definition of insane/But here I go, I follow those highway stripes leading the way/Down that fine line between making a living and digging your grave.” Here’s the studio track:

One highlight was “Wait on the Wine.” Here she is, a few nights earlier, performing it at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge, Mass.:

Another highlight: “Sit Here and Love Me”:

The bulk of the set, which was split by a solo-acoustic turn in its center, was drawn from her stellar 2019 release on Rounder Records, Mint Condition, though she worked in quite a few older tunes, too. My favorite moment came with “Who Are You,” which floated through the ether like a long-lost Emmylou Harris & Spyboy track:

Although you can’t see them in the clip, her backing band – Charlie Whitten on guitar, Luke Preston on bass, and drummer Aaron Shafer-Haiss – was phenomenal. Another moment when they shined was  “Slow Dancer,” a track from her 2017 Spades & Roses album. Here’s the studio version:

The night ended with her rendition of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses,” which she first heard via Mary Chapin Carpenter when she was 6. It quickly became, and still remains, one of her favorite songs.

In short, good times never seemed so good. If Caroline comes to your town, be sure to catch her. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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

This night, a middle-aged and older crowd found itself returned to the halcyon days of yore, when they tore up the dance floor with the Frug, Freddie and Watusi, due to a wondrous spell cast upon them by the musical shaman on stage, the one and only Lulu.

Her cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” of course, was her first (U.K.) hit, peaking at No. 7 in 1964 – when she was 15 years of age. Her innate talent and effervescent personality quickly led to a co-hosting gig on Gadzooks! It’s the In-Crowd, a teen-themed TV music show, and thus was born a U.K.-centric career. She hosted a succession of variety shows and one-off specials, and scored a succession of hits, including Top 10 songs in five decades.

Fifty+ years on, her voice sounds remarkably the same as it did on that long-ago single. In fact, at her best then and now – such as with “Oh Me, Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby)” – she blends equal measures of R&B, soul and pop into a delectable dish –

That Jim Doris-penned song was one she brought with her on her sojourn to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 1969 to record her New Routes album, a flawed masterpiece. (It and the following year’s Melody Fair, along with various singles and outtakes, are available on the more-than-worthwhile Atco Sessions: 1969-72 collection.) It was one of few songs that did better in the U.S., where it reached No. 22, than in the U.K. – and would be her last single to chart here until 1981, when she reached No. 18 with one of the night’s other highlights, “I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do).” Here’s the original version:

Anyway, that’s a lot of backstory to lead into this: Now 68, Lulu is undertaking what she should have done way back in 1967 – her first headlining tour of America. I pinpoint 1967 because, of course, that’s when the title tune to the iconic film To Sir With Love topped the Billboard charts for five weeks (on its way to being the No. 1 single for the year).

During the show, she mentioned how the record company actually relegated the song to the b-side of the Neil Diamond-penned “The Boat That I Row”; if not for American deejays, who back then held much sway over what made air, flipping the 45, the song never would have become iconic. Imagine that!

Other highlights included her tribute to David Bowie with “The Man Who Sold the World,” which she released as a single (produced by Bowie and Mick Ronson) in 1974; and her recollection of being in the studio with (ex-husband) Maurice Gibb and the Bee Gees when they wrote and recorded several classic songs. Fast forward to 6:33 of this fan’s highlight-like reel of the show for part of that:

Obviously, everyone in attendance expected to be entertained – it’s why we bought tickets to the show, after all. It was to be a fun night out. But the common refrain I heard from those around us while we left the theater and made our way to the parking lot was that “she was even better than I hoped.” Or, as Diane told a friend on the phone moments ago, “She was incredible. Unbelievable.” I’d second that.

  1. Shout
  2. The Boat That I Row
  3. The Man Who Sold the World
  4. Poison Kiss
  5. I Don’t Wanna Fight
  6. Run to Me
  7. To Love Somebody
  8. I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You
  9. Unchain My Heart
  10. Wait for Me
  11. The Man With the Golden Gun
  12. I Could Never Miss You
  13. Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby)
  14. Rock Steady
  15. Hound Dog
  16. To Sir With Love
  17. I Can’t Turn You Loose