Shawn Colvin first knocked my socks off in 1992 upon releasing “Fat City.” It’s an album I still consider to be perfect in every sense of the word. It also made me an instant; committed Colvin fan. From there I went backwards into her debut album from 1989 , the dare I say iconic “Steady On.”
In 1994 Colvin released Cover Girl” and the “Live in ’88” album the following year. Sometime around then was when I first saw her perform live and this further made me realize what an extraordinary talent she is because along with being so damn good with her guitar and vocals, she’s a hilarious and witty storyteller with stage presence to spare.
Since then I’ve seen Colvin three or four more times and most recently was Friday night at The Cabot in Beverly, MA. The show was originally scheduled to happen at City Winery in Boston however construction delays (they hope to be open very soon) made a venue change necessary. My disappointment was short-lived because the Cabot is a classic old theater and it won me over the second I saw the retro marquis.
Between the downstairs and balcony, the Cabot has a capacity of about 800 and it was probably 2/3 of the way full. I call this a win for both The Cabot and City Winery because it was a bit of a schlep for people to get there who had originally planned on Boston but based on the audience responses I witnessed during the show, no one seemed to mind. And the theater itself is gorgeous and classic in that old theater way that can never quite be replicated with new buildings.
Colvin’s longtime friends and sometimes bandmates Teresa Williams and Larry Campbell opened the show with a terrific 40 minute set and retook the stage with Colvin and the rest of her band for a sensational two hour show. Michael Ramos played keys, fluegelhorn and melodica, Glenn Fukunaga was on bass and the drummer was Mike Meadows. Campbell played guitar (and violin on one song) and Williams was on backing vocals. All five of them are longtime pros who have played , recorded and toured with an encyclopedic list of big-time musicians. It was only fitting that these five were the musicians in Colvin’s band on this tour.
The reason for the tour was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “A Few Small Repairs.” The album technically came out in ’96 but “Sunny Came Home” wasn’t released as a single until the summer of ’97 and became a very big damn deal winning a Grammy for Record of the Year and Song of the Year along with a nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
I love it when acts do these kind of album anniversary tours and play entire albums. I saw Peter Gabriel do this a few years ago with “So” and Paula Cole last year with “This Fire.” Earlier this year I saw Brandi Carlile perform the entire “The Story” album at The Ryman as part of a handful of shows marking that record’s decade mark. It’s “a thing” to do these tours and I for one think the concept is great. Plus the artists always play more than just the album and it makes for a very engaging show. “A Few Small Repairs” is a tremendous album and I think it was a damn fine idea for Colvin to take it on the road two decades later.
At 9 p.m. the show began not with something from “A Few Small Repairs” but rather a sublime tribute to Tom Petty (I still can’t believe he’s gone, can you?) in the form of “Wildflowers.” Well done, Colvin and company, very well done.
And then it was off to the “A Few Small Repairs” races, in sequential order, beginning with the aforementioned hit “Sunny Came Home.” Colvin’s voice sounded clear, strong and captivating and the sound in The Cabot was spot on. The blistering “Get Out Of This House” came next and although she told us the story about writing the song later in the show, I’ll share it now. Colvin said it was born out of frustration of not being able to actually write in the writing room she had created in the first house she had ever bought. “I couldn’t think of a damn thing in that room and I looked out the window and I said ‘go jump in the lake, go ride up the hill, get out of this house.” A song was born. She also told us that an earlier draft had included “Go piss up a rope” and something about the Pope.
“The Facts About Jimmy,” Colvin explained, was based on a true story with names changed. “He would not have me. I was not happy about that at all,” she said to much laughter adding that “it goes to show you how little you have to do to get into one of my songs.”
“I Want It Back,” was another product of the “dreaded writing room,” adding that she was wrote it at a time that she was frustrated with certain 90s celebrities including the likes of OJ Simpson and Tori Spelling.
About halfway though the album the band left the stage and Colvin took a seat at a piano for what I consider to be the saddest, most poignant song from “A Few Small Repairs.” Said another way; it’s my favorite. The song is “If I Were Brave” and this was the first time I had heard her play it live.
“How could it be that I was born without a clue to carry on
And still it is the same now I am older
Armed with just a will and then this love for singing songs
And minding less and less if I am colder”
The song’s been killing me for 20 years. I love it.
Now here’s the part of the review where I pause for the briefest moment to do something I don’t normally do; call out a member of the audience member for something.
Colvin was in the middle of playing the songs from “A Few Small Repairs,” which is the reason she was on tour in the first place and some guy yelled out “Fat City” in between songs. Let me be clear, “Fat City” is sacred to me, so sacred that my next tattoo is likely going to be a lyric from one of its songs. But I thought it was profoundly disrespectful to yell that out, especially since Colvin had already told us she’d be playing some other stuff later in the show. Rant over. Now where was I?
Ah yes, the poetic perfection of “Wichita Skyline.” Colvin told us she had hoped to use a place in her home state of South Dakota but “no town sang as well as Wichita.” She makes a good point, the town does indeed “sing well,” especially when sung by her.
After “Wichita,” Colvin took a moment to tell us that “A Few Small Repairs” is now available on vinyl. “It’s fucking amazing if you play it on double speed backwards with the DVD of The Wizard of Oz.” She’s a riot without even trying. I love that about her.
“A Few Small Repairs” ends with another sad one, “New Thing Now” and then the hopeful and bright “Nothin on Me” after which Colvin and the band took their bows and left the stage to a standing ovation.
They came back out for a four song encore starting with “I’ll Be Back,” the Beatles tune on the “Cover Girl” album. Colvin’s version is slow and moody AF.
From there it was onto one of Colvin’s most beloved tunes, the title track to “Steady On.” This is the kind of song that is always fresh, always meaningful and always so damn good. “I’m gonna keep my head on straight” is a line I’ll be singing for the rest of my life.
Next was the Jackson Browne/Warren Zevon penned “Tenderness on the Block” which Colvin recorded for “Fat City.” The “find true love” backing vocals from Campell, Williams a couple of the other guys in the band were perfect.
Shawn Colvin ended the show two hours after it started with another “Steady On” track. “Diamond in the Rough” is another Colvin classic and it was the ideal bookend to an excellent night.