Posts Tagged ‘Shout to the Top’

I rarely discuss matters of faith, but – when or if pressed – will confess to membership in the cross-denominational Church of Birch, whose charismatic prelate turns on the light of love and salvation in her melodic testimonies.

I’m speaking of singer-songwriter Diane Birch, of course.

Yesterday, she unveiled a PledgeMusic project. One could say she’s passing the donation plate to fund her next album, and promising a plethora of cool premiums in return. I pledged last night, though not for the premium I most desire – a cover song of my choice. That clocks in at a reasonable $400; if not for our impending move, and the upfront costs that will entail, I’d have clicked on it without a second thought. (Instead, I’m settling on the dream journal and USB thumb drive of demos.)

The Pastor Birch has a knack for turning the songs of others into her own. The first time we saw her live, in July 2009, she turned a fun rendition of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” into a way-cool moment by linking it with the Beatles’ “I Got a Feeling.” The second time we saw her, in 2010, it was a Hall & Oates song – “Rich Girl,” I believe. And in-between those two shows, on French TV, she turned in a mesmerizing spin of Gossip’s “Heavy Cross” that spliced in a little Screamin’ Jay Hawkins…

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Songs I’d Pay Diane Birch to Cover (If I Had the Cash)… 

1) Carole King/Gerry Goffin – “Up on the Roof.” My first choice. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest songs ever written…and Diane would send it into the stratosphere. Here’s Dusty Springfield’s take on it…

2) Laura Nyro – “The Sweet Sky.” My Diane’s first choice would be this deep cut from Laura Nyro’s 1978 Nested album.  (That’s Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals on electric piano, by the way.)

3) Paul Weller – “The Soul Searchers.” From Weller’s recent five-star album, True Meanings, this song is perfect fit for DB. I think she’d do wonders with it.

4) Neil Diamond – “Holly Holy.” DB would slay this stirring stream-of-consciousness song. It’s perfect for her.

5) Sandy Denny – “I’m a Dreamer.” Recorded for Sandy’s final studio album, Rendezvous, in 1977. Here’s an alternate take from the Notes and Words box set. (It’d go doubly well with DB’s own “Stand Under My Love.”)

And two bonuses…

6) Karla Bonoff – “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was recorded by Linda Ronstadt for her 1976 Hasten Down the Wind album. 

7) Style Council – “Shout to the Top.” I realized, looking at the first six picks, that I’d leaned hard on mid-tempo tunes. Here’s a remedy…and what a remedy!

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.

Sunday, Diane and I made our way to the Electric Factory on North 7th Street in Philly to see Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul. The general admission/standing-room only concert hall first opened its doors in 1994, yet it was my first time on its cement floor.

Steven and his 15-piece band, which includes a horn section and three backup singers, came on at 8:30pm and played for about two hours, delivering a solid 22-song set that worked best with the uptempo songs. The slower numbers, such as the doo-wop “City Weeps Tonight” and funky “Down and Out in New York City,” drowned beneath the din reverberating from the bar. It didn’t help that – as the picture below shows – we were far back from the stage. Also, the sound was trebly and dense, akin to sparkly sludge.

Still, it was a good show and night, though by the time I collapsed into bed it was technically early Monday morning. I slept through my 5:50am alarm, rolled out of bed about two hours later and hit the road minutes after that – which was when I learned of the mass shooting at the country music festival in Las Vegas.

Since 1983, I’ve attended concerts large and small, in hallowed halls and cruddy clubs, and there are literally only a handful that I wish I’d skipped – the Singer Who Must Not Be Named springs to mind, especially. That is to say, I rarely leave a show unhappy with anything other than the drive home. Diane’s cut from the same cloth.

We see concerts. It’s what we, in part, do.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not out and about every night, week or even month, though sometimes it may seem that way; and spinning an LP, cranking a CD, or clicking play on the Pono Player or Apple Music can be just as wondrous an experience. As Tom Petty has been quoted as saying, “Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.”

Music may not be salvation, but it is God’s gift. No matter the style or genre, be it rock, pop, country, hip-hop, R&B, soul or blues, or any of the many sub-genres therein, whether it’s critically acclaimed or not, it serves a purpose larger than itself. It feeds the spirit. That such a secular communion was bloodied by someone with a gun? It breaks my heart.

And then the news of Tom Petty’s death came. I’ve been a fan – though not a hardcore fan – since “Refugee” and Damn the Torpedoes, and saw him and the Heartbreakers in concert at the Spectrum in 1990. (Look for an Of Concerts Past entry about it in the near future.) I’ve actually contemplated seeing him in the years since, but for one reason or another – usually venue – decided “next time.”

Perhaps because of all that, a show that I’d been anticipating for months – Paul Weller with Lucy Rose at the TLA on South Street (aka “the hippest street in town”) on Wednesday, October 4th, proved even better than expected. Paul Weller, of course, is a longtime favorite; Lucy Rose entered my life earlier this year by way of the Staves, and has quickly become someone whose music I adore. When she was added to the bill, months after I’d purchased our tickets, I knew a great night was going to be even greater. (At least, I hoped that.)

Now, the TLA has been around forever and a day, primarily as a movie theater but also as a playhouse; it wasn’t until 1988 that it began life as a concert venue. My first time there, I think, was in late 1982 to see Ciao! Manhattan – though it could have been earlier that year to see another esoteric film. The first time I saw a concert at the locale, however, came seven years later, when I took in the Indigo Girls on back-to-back nights. Back then, the venue was stellar, as it retained movie-style seats – you sat back, and the music washed over you. Somewhere along the way, however, the powers-that-be realized more money could be made by removing said seats, as bodies could be packed in, and it became primarily a standing room-only venue. Eventually, in the mid or late ‘90s, a balcony was added and…off the top of my head, the last show I remember seeing there was Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band in 1999.

Anyway, this night, we were in what’s called the “Crow’s Nest” – a VIP (more expensive) section that I imagine was added at some point in the 2000s or 2010s. It features a great view of the stage and, too, there are seats, which – given that I was still dragging from Sunday’s late night – were a necessity.

Lucy Rose, for her part, overcame a sea of indifferent Weller fans to deliver a sublime (if too-short) set of her stirring songs – as I tweeted her after she left the stage, she really needs to play a venue more geared toward singer-songwriters, such as the World Cafe Live.

Paul Weller hit the stage at 9pm and, over the course of 135 minutes and 30 songs, exemplified all things mod, rock and soul. Among the treats: two Jam classics (“Monday” and “Start!” from Sound Affects), three Style Council favorites (“My Ever Changing Moods,” “Have You Ever Had It Blue” and “Shout to the Top”), plenty from his solo years, such as the hypnotic “Above the Clouds” and “Wild Wood,” plus seven from his recent A Kind Revolution album, including the aching “Long Long Road” and contagious “Woo Sé Mama.”

After the main set, he and the band returned for five acoustic numbers that I assumed – given the time of night – would cap the concert. I was wrong. They then switched back to electric and…whoa! “These City Streets” from Saturns Pattern, “Peacock Suit” from Heavy Soul, the Jam’s “Start!,” “The Cranes Are Back” from A Kind Revolution and “The Changingman” from Wild Wood ended the night in tremendous fashion.

Here are three highlights:

In short, it was a great, great concert. Weller delivered blistering guitar solo after solo and raucous piano runs, his dual drummers pounded out propulsive rhythms, and the band as a whole – wow. Just wow. There were a few songs that I wasn’t familiar with in the moment, but it didn’t matter. The show washed away the heartache and heartbreak from a bad week, and renewed my spirit. He and his crack band gave us the beat and freed our souls…if only for a night.

And thank God for that.