On Saturday night, Sept. 14, 2019 I saw Brandi Carlile (with opener Mavis Staples !) at Madison Square Garden in New York City. This was a HUGE DEAL as it was Carlile’s first time headlining at this historic venue. What a year she’s having! I love ALL OF IT.
The show has been reviewed several times by several people and several media outlets. I’ve read some of these reviews and they’re fantastic. Look ’em up and have at it.
So what can I say about the show that hasn’t already said?
I decided to venture into uncharted waters and share my thoughts about the show in POEM FORM. And so. Here it is.
By Aimsel L. Ponti
On Saturday night I witnessed a supernova in human form
I sat -and stood- among thousands
Together we sang
Together we cheered
Together we celebrated
On Saturday night I saw an epiphany in human form
I sat among thousands
We heard guitars and strings and bass
We heard drums and piano and a horn
We heard a voice from another planet
On Saturday night I experienced a miracle in human form
I sat among thousands
We listened as gratitude was expressed in unprecedented ways
We saw tears wiped away, some of them our own
We took the songs into our hearts, where they’ll stay forever
On Saturday night I understood transcendence in human form
I sat among thousands
We beheld a band at their zenith
We experienced music stripped to its core
We felt our hearts get catapulted up to the hallowed rafters
On Saturday night I realized the magnitude of music in human form
I sat among thousands
We were rapturous during a Joni song
We were beside ourselves with Mavis
We lost our minds with Amanda and Natalie
On Saturday night I saw a show at Madison Square Garden
I sat among thousands
I was awestruck and overwhelmed
I was ripped apart and reassembled
I was thankful, so very thankful for Brandi Carlile
In July of 2018 I attended the Newport Folk Festival for the very first time. When I left that festival I remember thinking to myself that the experience would never be topped. It just wasn’t possible.
Now for a little journalism 101: I am not going to bury the lede!
Instead I will shoot it into the sky like a 100 foot blazing arrow and to further embarrass myself, I’m going to do it in all caps and goddamn bold too. Ready?
DOLLY PARTON AND KERMIT THE FROG WERE SURPRISE GUESTS AT THE 2019 NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL.
I still can’t believe it. Dolly Parton ANDKermit the Frog. Both were surprises and both slayed every single person at the festival. Parton slayed us five times and Kermit did it with one song and a little help from Jim James (My Morning Jacket).
I’ll have more on the country icon and the beloved Muppet shortly. But first, a little unpacking of the rest of the festival.
As I quickly learned at my festival debut last year, it’s not possible to see all of the performances. There are a total of four stages and unless I had Orphan Black-esque clones with me, there are always brutal decisions to make. For example, I missed Sheryl Crow’s entire Fort stage set. Ditto for Kacey Musgraves, save for one song. And I foolishly only hung around the Quad stage long enough to see a few songs from Our Native Daughters. I’m still kicking myself over that misstep.Those are but three examples. But I also quickly learned that it’s futile to worry about what you missed, especially when you hear about the surprise guests that jump on stage all weekend long. For example, James Taylor’s boat docked by the fort and he joined Crow on a song. I didn’t see it.
But I sure saw a lot. Some acts I caught the entire sets of, some just a song or two. But everything I saw and heard touched me one way or another. Sometimes I got teary, other times I was spellbound by the music or singing and dancing along with everybody else. Other times I thought my heart was going to beat its way right out of my chest. Like when surprise guest Linda Perry, surrounded and accompanied by an array of extraordinary, mostly female musicians, sang her early 90s anthem “What’s Up?”
I mean for the love of god WATCH THIS:
It’s been more than 25 years since that song was first released and we’re all still trying to get up that great big hill up hope for a destination.
Newport Folk Festival is like spending three days in a place that’s one part Fantasy Island, one part Candy Land and one part heaven, all with a to-die-for live soundtrack and with 10,000 people who are damn happy to be there with you.
If you’re curious and want to see the entire schedule so as to better understand the magnitude of the lineup and why decision making was so rough click HERE.
For the past several days I’ve been thinking that I have to someone qualify this next part or include several disclaimers. But doing that would actually take some of its power away. Therefore, I’m declaring this as plainly as I can:
THE WOMEN WERE THE STARS OF THE 2019 NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL!
That is what I’m going to focus on.
Were the fellas also outstanding? Obviously.In particular J.S. Ondara (do yourself a favor and check him out!) and Jeff Tweedy.
So not only were the women the superstars of this year’s festival, one in particular led the charge. It would not be a stretch for the unofficial name of the 2019 Newport Folk Festival to be the Newport Brandi Carlile Folk Festival. She likely appeared on more stages than anyone else all weekend long (Amy Ray Band, Hozier, Sheryl Crow, etc. etc. etc) but she was also the leader on what was referred to on the festival schedule only as this:
In fact, it is this collaboration that I’ll spend the most time on because if I live to be 119, I don’t think I’ll ever see anything quite like it again.
It closed out Saturday night and although we had a whole other day of festival left to go, it’s the part of the festival that for me at least, was the most incredible part.
But there were many other moments of the festival that MUST be mentioned and these I’ll mention in the order that I saw them.
It all began on Friday morning.
YOLA. If you don’t know her name you likely will soon enough. Then you’ll listen to her debut album “Walk Through Fire” on repeat. She was the first act I saw at this year’s festival. YOLA is a British country soul singer and if Brandi Carlile was queen of the festival, YOLA was princess, or co-queen, or co-supreme being. She too was on several stages and for good reason, I mean listen to her sing.
Friday afternoon on the Quad stage, I’m With Her performed. They’re the trio of Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins. To know them is to love them and even though all three of them have well-established solo careers, what they do as I’m With Her is its own galaxy of musical perfection.
I also caught parts of sets by Adia Victoria, Liz Cooper & The Stampede and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. All outstanding.
Amy Ray Band on the Harbor Stage were also tremendous. It didn’t suck one bit that Brandi Carlile hopped on stage for a handful of songs. Ray released the album “Holler” last year and it’s SO GOOD!
This brings me to what was arguably the most highly-anticipated performance of the entire festival: The world debut performance by The Highwomen. They’re the new country supergroup (and I don’t give three shits if you disagree with the use of the term. It’s accurate) of Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires. Not unlike I’m With Her, all four women of The Highwomen have significant solo careers. They’ve joined forces to turn country music on its ear. The album drops on Sept. 6 and the first single is “Redesigning Women,” which they played twice at Newport because why the hell not right?
When festival director Jay Sweet took the stage to introduce The Highwomen the level of excitement beneath -and well beyond- that Quad stage tent was as palpable. I could barely contain myself. You know who couldn’t either? Brandi Carlile. This is the exact moment when she took to the stage, with her fellow Highwomen right behind her. If this isn’t the world’s most genuine expression of joy, I don’t know what the eff is.
The Highwomen played their entire new album in order, starting with “Highwomen” and ending with “Wheels of Laredo” plus a bonus replay of “Redesigning Women” and if that wasn’t enough, the set also include their take on Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” from the soundtrack of the film “The Kitchen.” I never had any intention of breaking the chain when Fleetwood Mac sings it and I sure as hell won’t now having heard Highwomen’s take on it. Plus they had YOLA and Sheryl Crow join them on a few songs. I loved every single nano-second of their set. Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires and their friend Chris Tompkins wrote a gay country love song called “If She Ever Leaves Me.” It’s on the album and the Highwomen played it. Holy Shit.
In a press release I received a few weeks ago, here’s what Carlile said about The Highwomen:
“Anyone can be a Highwoman,” Carlile notes. “It’s about banding together, abandoning as much ego as humanly possible, holding one another up and amplifying other women every chance we get. Shoulder to shoulder. One push, one love.”
COUNT ME IN!!!
Now onto Saturday!
Jade Bird was fantastic as was Gregory Alan Isakov and as I said above, Jeff Tweedy. I’m sad I missed Lucy Dacus, Ruston Kelly, Mountain Man and a bunch of other acts but such is festival life.
I did however catch Maggie Rogers’ set on the Fort stage and her performance was dynamic and an absolute blast to see and hear. Despite not playing my two favorite songs, “Alaska” and especially “Dog Years,” her set was fabulous and packed with tunes from “Heard It in a Past Life” along with John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.”
Soon it became time to gather for the semi-mysterious collaboration. I say semi-mysterious because it was already known that this was Brandi Carlile’s thing. And yes, the rumors about Dolly Parton were also flying around the media tent and the festival on a whole. But let me tell you, there is a HUGE difference between a rumor and actually witnessing something.
I skipped the photo pit for this performance and took up the spot secured to me by my friend and fellow Carlile fanatic Tracy Albernaz. Tracy was to my right and to her right was another friend, Marian Starkey. The three of us all went to Brandi’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend so it only made sense that we ended up together for this performance. To say we had a good spot would be an understatement. We were RIGHT UP against the railing, front and center. And the three of us, along with the other 10,000 fans around us, lost our minds. I may never quite find mine again and I’m entirely OK with that.
There were so many exceptional women on stage that night. SO MANY. And SO MUCH HAPPENED. Here are some highlights:
Pretty much the entire time, all four Highwomen were on stage along with Tim and Phil Hanseroth (Carlile’s bandmates,) Jason Isbell and Chris Powell (Carlile’s drummer).
Women of Bluegrass kicked things off. They’re Bonnie Payne, Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull and damn it…who am I forgetting? If you know, by all means chime in via the comments. Thanks!
Amy Ray came out and busted out the Indigo Girls’ song “Go” (one of FAVORITE Ray-penned songs!!!) with Lucy Dacus and Carlile. It was a blistering storm of musical thunder. I freaked right out.
Linda Perry (surprise guest) as I already mentioned DESTROYED us all with “What’s Up?”
Sheryl Crow sang “Strong Enough” with Maggie Rogers and YOLA. Oh and she also did “If It Makes You Happy” with Carlile and Maren Morris.
But nothing could have ever prepared any of us, including and perhaps especially Brandi Carlile for the arrival of Dolly Parton and Carlile’s the one who invited her in the first place. She wasn’t just in on the secret, she made it happen.
Here’s what Carlile before said beforel Parton walked out onto the stage:
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Newport Folk Festival. On its 60th anniversary, I bring you one of the greatest surprises ever. The incomparable unicorn legend that is Dolly Parton…” WE ALL WENT BANANAS.
Oh heck: WATCH THIS:
Parton sang an astounding FIVE SONGS!!
“Eagle When She Flies” came first. I have chills even thinking about it. The Highwomen were backing her up on it along with the all-star band. Even if Parton had JUST done that one song it would have been enough.
AND NEXT WAS “JOLENE.” At this point I’m dead. I mean WTF? I heard Dolly Parton SING ‘JOLENE” live. I can’t even. I just can’t…
And it wasn’t over yet because next came a live music moment that will always live in the corner of my heart reserved for such moments. I didn’t believe it then and I still don’t believe it now. It will go down as one of the most sublime duets ever performed live.
Here’s Dolly Parton with Brandi Carlile singing Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You”:
I still have no idea how I held it together for this. Same goes for Brandi Carlile. You can tell at the end of the song that Carlile knows this is one of the most significant moments of her life. We all felt it. I still do. As I write this I’m watching the above clip with goosebumps all over. It’s that good. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of and I am sticking by that cliche because it fits.
And…say it with me: IT STILL WASN’T OVER.
Saturday night at Newport Folk Festival ended with a sing-along for the ages with “9 to 5.” Everyone joined in: Yola, Brandi, Linda, Jade, Maggie, Courtney Marie, Amy, Sheryl, Lucy, Natalie, Amanda, Rachael and Bridget (Lake Street Dive) to name some.
My friend Marion and I walked out of there in a dream-like state but also in a bit of a hurry. Despite having just experienced something that we could barely process, we hot-stepped with our festival-worn feet to her car parked a mile and a half away and experienced a Newport miracle: We found a parking spot directly across the street from the Jane Pickens Theatre. Our night wasn’t over because we had managed to snap up a pair of tickets to a festival after-show. These tickets were as hot as a ticket could get. Why?
Because they were for Mavis Staples! She and her crackerjack band put on a hell of a show and her 80th birthday which has been celebrated several times already this year was celebrated once again because of course it was.
Not only was Mavis herself spectacular, the stage was a revolving door of special guests. Lake Street Dive, Milk Carton Kids, Jeff Tweedy, YOLA, Jason Isbell, Hozier and Brandi Carlile all graced the stage that night during a 14 song set.
After all that you would have thought I would have slept like the dead. Hardly. I was awake until almost 2 a.m. because I could not come down from the high. And yeah, it was a music one. Of course it was! With the exception of a lone whiskey, water and watermelon seltzer was all this kid consumed all weekend long.
After two BLISSFUL and long days of festival joy, not to mention the Mavis show on Saturday night, I didn’t have much gas left in the proverbial tank. As I walked into the festival (after a grueling 45 minutes in the blazing sun waiting in line) I thought to myself that I would see what I could see but may need to mostly chillax either in the media tent or in a spot far from the action.
Instead I went pretty much all in and saw as much as I could. Yeah, I took breaks when I needed to but for the most part, I immersed myself in the music and once I reached a certain point, it didn’t matter how hot (quite) or tired (mf exhausted) I was. I was INTO IT.
I started Sunday off by catching part of Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the Fort stage. Then I raced over to the Quad stage for part of J.S. Ondara’s riveting set. Then I zipped back (my Fit Bit damn near exploded it got so much action) to the Fort stage for some of Lake Street Dive’s set because I adore them.
I made it back to the Quad stage in time for the beginning of one of the most talked about sets of the weekend. As I said above, I didn’t see all of it. But I saw enough.
Our Native Daughters is Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell. Google the hell out of them and go down a YouTube rabbit hole. Follow them on every platform. Get a copy of their album. Become a superfan! Trust me on this. Their music is important. Their message is important. And they’re tremendous. Got it?
After catching the beginning of Hozier’s set (and damn it, I missed it when he brought out Brandi Carlile and sang “The Joke” with her), I ducked into the museum because on that stage is where Judy Collins was playing with Ari Hest. I was there long enough to hear Collins sing Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” and the sun poured in like butterscotch all over my heart.
Then it was time for the grand finale of the 2019 Newport Folk Festival over at the Fort stage. It was called If I Had A Song and songbooks were handed out.
While the rumor mill had been buzzing about Dolly Parton, what happened next was out of nowhere. Hats off to all those involved with guarding this secret. It needed to be guarded. I am SO GLAD I had no idea what was about to happen.
And so it came to be that what kicked off If I Had A Song was Kermit the Frog leading us in a sing-along of “The Rainbow Connection.” For the second verse, Kermit brought out Jim James of My Morning Jacket. I cried real tears. This was upper level special and I stood there ( crouched down to not block peoples’ views) and took it all in, doing my best to take photos while keeping my shit together.
BTW, Kermit the Frog duties have been handled masterfully for the past couple of years by puppeteer and singer Matt Vogel who was assisted by puppeteer Peter Linz at the Newport appearance.
Here’s another photo of Kermit.
The rest of the If I Had A Song was entirely glorious. The band was guitarist Chris Funk from Decemberists (he also served as bandleader) , Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers on keys, John Stirrat from Wilco on bass, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes on guitar and Sleater-Kinney alumnist Janet Weiss on drums.
There aren’t enough deep breaths in the world to settle me down enough so that I can be calm and properly centered to be able to write this review.
Because in one of the most unexpected concert experiences of my life I saw these artists pay tribute to Joni Mitchell in honor of her 75th birthday by performing her songs live:
Brandi Carlile, Glen Hansard, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Chaka Khan, Diana Krall, Kris Kristofferson, Los Lobos with La Marisoul, Cesar Castro & Xochi Flores, Graham Nash, SEAL, James Taylor and Rufus Wainwright.
How can I begin to wrap my head around this? A handful of days ago (Tuesday, 11/6/18 to be exact) I sat in the fourth row of the balcony at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and watched and listened as, one by one, all of these artists were introduced and backed by a STELLAR band under the direction of co-musical directors Brian Blade (drums) and Jon Cowherd (piano) performed an eclectic collection of career-spanning Joni Mitchell songs.
It was nothing short of a miracle that I was even at this show to begin with. A California trip with another agenda was already booked when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Tweet telling me that Brandi Carlile and James Taylor had been added to the already stacked lineup and more importantly, a handful of tickets had been released. With my calendar in one hand and my credit card in the other I snagged two tickets in a state of delirium and for the next month leading up the show had to pinch myself because I felt like Charlie Bucket holding the golden ticket.
The stage at the gorgeous Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was adorned with an old canoe, wooden skis and other retro, rustic props that gave it a cabin in the woods kind of feel. Couches were on either side and were both put to good use throughout the evening. Nothing quite like seeing Emmylou Harris perched on one watching other artists. I digress.
Throughout the entire show images of Joni were projected on a giant screen behind the stage and we’d also see occasional clips of interviews with her as well as well wishes from Elton John and Peter Gabriel.
And so it began, just after 7:30 p.m. on election night no less.
A voice welcomed us and the first artist was announced. With said announcement came the first of several heart-stopping moments. It was Norah Jones who stood center stage and opened the show with a lovely version of “Court and Spark.” Jones would return to the stage during the second half of the show, this time at the piano where she played “Borderline,” a track from Mitchell’s 1994 Turbulent Indigo album.
When Jones finished with “Court and Spark” I realized that I had an entire evening of moments ahead of me when time would stand still for a few seconds before the next name was announced. If only this kind of exquisite anticipation could be bottled.
Glen Hansard was next with “Coyote” and the dude nailed it, which came as no surprise. With vocals that made me think of Cat Stevens it was a joyous thing to watch Hansard shine with his acoustic guitar.
While I could say something about every single song that was played during the 22 song show, I know you have to get back to your life at some point so instead, I’m referring to my scribbled notes and will share what were my favorite moments of the night. But let me a thousand percent clear before I do. EVERY SINGLE PERFORMER WAS EPIC and it can’t be stated enough how spectacular the band was.
That said, I’m gonna jump to the seventh song of the evening. It was “Help Me” from “Court and Spark” and OMG, Chaka Khan owned it. Immensely. I don’t even know what to say about it so here’s this:
Two songs later came Los Lobos with Marisoul playing “Nothing Can Be Done,” a favorite of mine from 1991’s “Night Ride Home.” Spectacular.
Truly nothing could have prepared me for the song that closed out the first set. I’ve since read that Joni specifically asked SEAL to perform it. I have the chills even thinking about how incredible and vocally tremendous he was on “Both Sides Now.”
Put on some headphones and be prepared to lose your shit. Ready?
As you can imagine, we all went insane at the end of the song and SEAL got a much-deserved standing ovation.
The house lights came back on and I sat there in a daze because I couldn’t believe there was still a second set to come.
And so it was that Graham Nash opened the second set of the show by sitting at the grand piano where he said “I’m honored to be here. Most of the songs you’ll hear tonight will have been written by Joan except this one. I wrote this song for Joni almost 50 years ago.” With that, Nash played “Our House” and I got full-on teary. Halfway through the song he invited us all too sing along. Most did. I was too overwhelmed with emotion to pull it together but everyone else sounded great. I did manage one “la la la la la” out but barely. And damn it, I’m getting teary again watching the YouTube clip of it even now.
Quick but supreme shout-outs to Diana Krall for “Amelia” and Rufus Waingwright for “All I Want.” Both were exceptional and I have huge love for both artists. My god…
If you’ve ever read any of my other posts here (and I sure hope you have or will) you likely know that I am a MASSIVE BRANDI CARLILE FAN. HUGE. RABID. HARDCORE. She was indeed the artist I was most excited to see and along with SEAL, Carlile was the highlight of the night for me.
First came “A Case Of You” from 1971’s “Blue” which she sang with Kris Kristofferson who also played an acoustic guitar. Kristofferson is a living legend. He’s 82 years young. Look, I’ll level with you and you’ll hear it for yourself below, his vocals weren’t so hot but I say this with reverence and respect. The man can do no wrong. Carlile clearly holds him in the same regard as the rest of us and the smile on her face, one of adoration and of realizing the significance of the moment was one of the most genuine goddamn things I’ve ever had the honor to bear witness to. She deferred to him for much of the song but when she sang, and I’m sorry but I HAVE to use profanity, it brought the fucking house down.
Then it was time for Carlile to shine on her own as she sang “Down To You,” another track from Court and Spark. Her performance of that song has been absorbed by my very cells.
Here’s a clip of “Both Sides Now” and “Down To You.” Take note of (and you really don’t need me to say this, it will be quite evident) how tremendous the band is during “Down To You). When “Down To You” ended I clapped and cheered with everything I had. Part of me is still in Los Angeles in that balcony and I’m still cheering.
Time for another shout-out. This time to James Taylor for “Woodstock.” It didn’t hurt ONE BIT that SEAL lent some backing vocals to it.
The time had come to land the Joni love plane and I’m awarding high marks to all those involved in the decision of what song to end with. It had to be one that would work with several singers. And it had to be iconic. And upbeat also wouldn’t hurt.
I was at the first night of two shows. This clip below is from the second night which fell on the official date of Joni’s 75th birthday. Joni Mitchell was out on the stage for it and everyone sang Happy Birthday to her. A cake was brought out and she’s beaming. Although I wish I had been there on that night, I will always be thankful for being at night one. I had tickets to see Mitchell in the mid 90s but the show ended up being cancelled (I can’t remember why) so I’ve never seen her live. But that’s OK for obvious reasons: Joni Mitchell’s contribution to music can’t be measured. Her songwriting is something that I’ll always be in awe of. Same goes for her vocals. And if you’ll pardon the tired cliche I’ll say this: the world is very much a better place with Joni Mitchell and her music in it. I don’t know what else to say about it so I’ll leave it there.
Years from now as I look back on the night of November 6, 2018, I am certain those same feelings will come over me that did as I sat there and took it all in: Ones of sincere wonder and awe. Ones of immense gratitude. And ones of love for all of the artists who performed that night all because of a shared sentiment: Love for Joni Mitchell.
Lastly, I for sure would like to thank my spouse Tracy for dealing with my hysteria over this entire show and for going with me to it. You’re the best!
Here’s the set-list:
1. Court and Spark – Norah Jones
2. Coyote – Glen Hansard
3. For the Roses – Diana Krall
4. Blue – Rufus Wainwright
5. Cold Blue Steel – Emmylou Harris
6. The Magdalene Laundries – Emmylou Harris
7. Help Me – Chaka Khan
8. Dreamland – Los Lobos
9. Nothing Can Be Done – Los Lobos
10. River – James Taylor
11. Both Sides Now – Seal
12. Our House – Graham Nash
13. A Strange Boy – Seal
14. All I Want – Rufus Wainwright
15. Borderline – Norah Jones
16. Amelia – Diana Krall
17. The Boho Dance – Glen Hansard
18 A Case of You – Kris Kristofferson and Brandi Carlile
19. Down To You – Brandi Carlile
20. Two Grey Rooms – Chaka Khan
21. Woodstock – James Taylor
22. Big Yellow Taxi – Everyone (!)
And here’s a Spotify Playlist of all of the songs performed, in order!
Natalie Merchant , accompanied by longtime guitarist Erik Della Penna, played two shows at the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 22 & 23. I was at the Sunday night show and, having been a fan of Merchant’s for more than 30 years, I still can’t believe I saw her in a rustic barn that held a little over 200 people.
Hancock Shaker Village is a wondrous utopia that’s open from April through December. There are 20 buildings ( I went into most of them!), several gardens, farm animals, a fantastic gift shop, countless Shaker artifacts and much more spread over 10 lovely acres. Hancock Shaker Village was founded in the late 1780s and lasted until 1959. The property was sold to a local group that, thankfully, was committed to preserving its heritage. Click here for the whole story.
Natalie Merchant’s performance was held in a barn toward the back of the property. Photography was prohibited, understandably so, however staff did let me pop in during the daytime to snap a few interior shots. I was also able to take one quick one before the performance started and got a nice exterior one. I put them together in the collage below to hopefully capture just how small and intimate the space was. When I first made my way over to in at midday, I was quickly surrounded by dozens and dozens of chickens who were clearly living their best lives . They were making a bit of a racquet with their assorted squawks and it was a joyful noise, especially when combined with an orchestra of animal sounds coming from the back of the nearby Round Stone Barn.
The first time I ever saw Natalie Merchant live was on July 23, 1988 at what was then called Great Woods in Mansfield, MA. This was the 10,000 Maniacs “In My Tribe” tour. Robyn Hitchcock was the opening act! I had become a fan earlier that year when the album was released. And when I say fan I mean HUGE FAN. This entire album is still sacred to me. I damn near wore my vinyl copy of it out. I remember discovering the previous album “The Wishing Chair” and also managing to track down a copy of their 1983 debut record “Secrets of the I Ching.” I had never heard a voice quite like Merchant’s and over the next several years saw 10,000 Maniacs several times on tours for “In My Tribe, “Blind Man’s Zoo” and “Our Time In Eden.” One of the things I specifically remember about a Maniacs show at Smith College in Northampton, MA ( I went to Keene State in NH an hour away) is that it was on a cold, snowy night and upon seeing several fans without tickets to the sold out show pressed against the windows outside, Merchant asked security let them inside.
When Merchant parted ways with the 10,000 Maniacs, I remember experiencing a moment of worry because I couldn’t bear the thought of no longer hearing new material from one of the greatest singers, not to mention songwriters, of my lifetime. This worry was of course short-lived. On June 20, 1995 Natalie Merchant released her debut solo album, “Tigerlily” and I was indeed hypnotized and mesmerized by its first single “Carnival.” The follow-up was “Wonder” and it remains one of the most hopeful songs you’ll ever want to hear about overcoming obstacles. The third track that was all over the radio was “Jealousy.” All three of these tracks are solid tunes that have stood the test of time but it’s the rest of the album that spin my spurs even more beginning with “San Andreas Fault” and going all the way through to the closing track “Seven Years.”
And now I’m gonna say something that some Merchant fans might consider sacrilegious. Ready? In 2015 Merchant released “Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings.” Every track on the album was stripped down and strings were added to others, including “Beloved Wife.” The first time I listened to this new take on “Tigerlily” was on a long drive and I do declare….I like it better than the original. Now one could argue, quite well in fact, the the two versions are the proverbial apples and oranges and they wouldn’t be wrong. It’s all so subjective isn’t it? All I know is that I was moved almost to tears a few times listening to the stripped down versions of songs like “River” and “I May Know the Word.”
But I digress. This is after all a concert review. But wait, for those of you who aren’t as hardcore of a Merchant fan as I am, permit me to briefly mention her discography after 1995’s “Tigerlily.” In 1998 Merchant released the incredible “Ophelia” album and to this day, I still love the entire thing. This is the album that gave us “Life is Sweet” and “Kind & Generous.” And it’s also home to “My Skin” and “Effigy.”
“Motherland” with the single “Just Can’t Last” came next in 2001. “The House Carpenter’s Daughter,” was released in 2003, “Leave Your Sleep” in 2010 and a self-titled album in 2014. When she toured for that album I interviewed her in advance of her performance here in Portland, Maine. After all those years of being a fan, I was finally able to wear my journalist hat. Merchant was lovely to chat with. Read it HERE. I also reviewed that show and you can read that HERE.
OK. Back to the day of the show at Hancock Shaker Village. I had such a perfect time roaming the grounds and seeing historical preservation up close and personal. Several sheep and goats and cows posed for photos for me and the entire afternoon was picture-perfect. I think the most compelling part of the village is the Round Stone Barn. Every inch of it held so much history.
Night started to fall on Pittsfield as we stood in line awaiting the 7 p.m. opening of the barn where the show was happening. The moment came and I secured my aisle seat, about halfway back. In a space as small as the barn, this meant I was 30-something feet from the small stage.
I quickly made a few concert friends (I’m looking at you, Daina and Sven) and the magic hour of 8 p.m. arrived and after a welcome from a few Hancock Shaker Village staffers, the show began with “Weeping Pilgrim.” A few things became immediately evident: Natalie Merchant’s vocals were pristine, Erik Della Penna’s guitar sublime and the acoustics were damn near perfect as the duo made their way through the gentle, traditional tune with the lines “I weep and I moan and I move slowly, I’m a poor mourning pilgrim bound for Canaan Land.”
Merchant was charming, mischievous and hilarious throughout the entire show. Her first order of business was moving a couple of fans who were behind some of the barn’s support pillars to unobstructed seats. Throughout the 19-song performance she offered historical notes about The Shakers and told us how when her daughter was young she used to love hearing Shaker hymns sung to her by her mother.
Merchant also surprised many of us by including three tracks from the iconic 10,000 Maniacs album “In My Tribe” in the set. After a few lines of Jim Croce’s “Operator,” Merchant sang “Don’t Talk” and “Hey Jack Kerouac” back to back then she took an audience request later in the show and sang “What’s the Matter Here?” At the end of the evening she teased out a few lines of “Verdi Cries” (I died a little) and a bit of “Ophelia’s” “My Skin” before launching into the “Tigerlily” hit “Wonder.”
Here’s another funny thing that happened at this show. Most of the songs were played with Merchant singing and Della Penna on guitar. However for a handful of them Merchant sat behind a Korg electric piano and incredibly, gave it away at the end of the night. She told us she never liked the thing and showed off the many sounds it was capable of making. Without fanfare she asked if anyone wanted it and a fan up front immediately said yes and the matter was settled. When the show ended with “Kind & Generous,” Merchant unplugged the Korg, picked it up and handed it to the lucky guy who now owns a piece of musical history. At first I thought this was odd but then I realized that sometimes when you’re truly done with having something in your life you sometimes need the damn thing gone…immediately.
Natalie Merchant also told us something that most of us already know: She doesn’t play too many shows anymore. What I for one didn’t know is that she teaches music to kids in what she described as inner-city schools and clearly extracts tremendous joy from this. You know how you can tell when somebody really loves something because their face lights up when they’re talking about it? It was like that.
Natalie Merchant has been a favorite musician of mine for more than 30 years. She’s got a voice like none other and her songwriting is equally incredible. As a fan I’ve been fortunate enough to have met Merchant “in real life” I think four or five times thanks to college radio connections that got me backstage passes to a “Blind Man’s Zoo” show, a chance meeting on the street after a show in Boston and a pre-show meet and greet experience at a 1997 Lilith Fair show among a few other random times. She’s always been so kind and generous with her time.
The show at Hancock Shaker Village in that chilly barn was really something extra special. I hope to see Merchant again some time but for now, I will treasure the memories of this intimate show because I literally sat there the entire time almost in disbelief. That’s how good she was and that’s how awestruck I was to be seeing her there.
Here’s the set list from the 9/23 show along with where you can find the songs:
“Weeping Pilgrim” (The House Carpenter’s Daughter, 2003)
“Motherland” (Motherland, 2001)
“Life if Sweet” (Ophelia, 1998)
“If No One Ever Marries Me” (Leave Your Sleep, 2010)
“Cowboy Romance” (Tigerlily, 1995)
“Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” (Leave Your Sleep, 2010)
“Sally Ann” (The House Carpenter’s Daughter, 2003)
“Build A Levee” (Motherland, 2001)
“Golden Boy” (Motherland, 2001)
“Don’t Talk” (10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe, 1987. Preceded by a few lines of Jim Croce’s “Operator”)
“Hey Jack Kerouac” (10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe, 1987.
“Carnival” (Tigerlily, 1995)
“Break Your Heart” (Ophelia, 1998)
“Saint Judas” (Motherland, 2001)
“What’s The Matter Here?” (10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe, 1987)
“The Bonny Light Horseman”( She sung this one acapella . Song is on the 2018 Lúnasa album Cas. Natalie is a guest vocalist on this track).
“Maggie Said” (Natalie Merchant, 2014)
Natalie sat at the piano for these. She played a few lines of “Verdi Cries” and then a bit of “My Skin” and finally all of “Wonder” (Tigerlily 1995)
“Kind & Generous” (Ophelia, 1998)
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Let me ask you something. Has there been a place you’ve wanted to go to for pretty much your entire life? As a live music fan, there are venues around the globe that I still haven’t been to but the one that’s been on the top of my list since the 80s is the one I FINALLY saw a show at in August.
What you’re about to read is a review of a recent Brandi Carlile concert. (Spoiler alert, I LOVED the show). But that’s not where the story begins, it begins with the band U2.
I’m in my 40s and have been a fan of U2 for as long as I can remember. On June 3, 1983 U2 played, in the cold rain no less, at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. It was the only time they’ve ever played there and several of the songs from that show were released on the “Under A Blood Red Sky” EP. This was the first U2 thing I ever bought. The show was released on video in 1984 (I still have a VHS copy somewhere) but initially, I saw it on MTV as individual clips. These clips are what made me a fan of U2.
This brings me to “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” This was the first performance footage I saw of U2 and to this day I can’t watch it without getting the chills and without being reminded of how much I love this band. But the main reason this footage has stayed so close to my heart for so long is where it was filmed. To me, Red Rocks has never quite been a real place. It’s been a dreamscape, an alternate reality, a musical nirvana and a sacred locale that surely can’t actually exist. And yet performances have been happening there for more than 100 years. I don’t have a good answer to the question of why it took me so long to finally bridge the gap between fantasy and the real world. Maybe I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Maybe I was afraid that if I actually stood in that place of my dreams that it would somehow shift its place in my heart. I’m still not sure. But what I can tell you is this: I can’t imagine a better act for my first visit to the hallowed ground that is Red Rocks than Brandi Carlile.
But first, in case you haven’t seen this, here’s the “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” footage that I used to stand in front of the TV and imitate Bono’s moves to and lip sync the lyrics to. Here’s the video that put its hooks into me decades ago and that has kept my desire to see a show at Red Rocks a constant pull in my heart for so, so long:
OK so onto the evening of Sunday, August 12. Whew…
I kept going in and out of almost a dreamlike state as the four us (my gal Tracy and our local pals Jodi and Jen) arrived on the grounds of Red Rocks and it got all the more real when we stopped at the box office and I was handed tickets. I had an all out Charlie Bucket Golden Ticket moment as I stood there with the pair of killer seats I had bought for Tracy and I months and months ago.
Fast forward to securing a parking spot and beginning the march to one of the entrances where the line moved along at a respectable pace and I took in the breathtaking scenery around me, all the while coming to terms with the fact that within a few minutes I would cross the proverbial threshold and would be standing inside Red Rocks.
As for that first moment, it’s hard to put into words. Something you’ve visualized for decades is never quite what you imagined it would be. But I have to say, when the full view of the venue lay before me two worlds collided; the younger version of myself watching Bono hold up that white flag and the present day version of myself finally standing in a musical version of the promised land.
The first order of business was to climb to the top and take it all in while also loving the hell out of The Secret Sisters set.
It took a moment for my brain and heart to sync up such was the poignancy of the moment.
From there we spent a little time in the visitor’s center which you simply must do because the Performer’s Hall of Fame documents hundreds of shows that have taken place at Red Rocks including, of course, that legendary U2 one.
Next up was a set from Shovels & Rope. They’re the duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent and I’m a huge fan. The fact that they were on this bill was another layer of frosting on the concert cake.
By this time Tra and I were in our 7th row seats ( off to the side a bit but entirely fabulous) which were none too shabby! From there I snapped a few more photos so as to try and capture to scope of Red Rocks’ natural magnificence.
The last bit of sunlight faded and the time for Brandi Carlile and her nothing less than 100% dynamite band to take the stage was drawing near. This was my sixth time seeing her this summer and the final show of my incredible #summerofbrandi2018.
Previously in 2018 I had seen BC twice in Boston, once in Portland, Maine, once at the Newport Folk Festival and the night before the Red Rocks show at a private fan performance in Boulder. My love for her music is as deep as the ocean and it grew all the more after the release of her latest album “By The Way, I Forgive You.”
And then it happened. The show started by way of a string trio medley that I’d heard at previous shows this year. It was all the more riveting because this was happening at RED ROCKS! I had chills that were multiplying more than Sandy and Danny combined and they didn’t stop until well after the last song about two hours later.
What followed were no less than 20 songs. It began with “Every Time I Hear That Song” and ended with the lights out all being turned off and thousands of us holding up our phones while Brandi and Laura and Lydia of the Secret Sisters sang ‘Amazing Grace” in what was one of the most memorable endings to a concert I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
In between Carlile and company delivered a tremendous set of tunes that included Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” which was sung by Brandi’s niece Caroline in advance of an upcoming talent show competition. The kid nailed it.
Shovels & Rope were invited to play their song “Cleanup Hitter” with Carlile and holy shit, it was fantastic.
The Secret Sisters sang backup on one of my favorite “By The Way” songs, “Sugartooth” and then stayed put for a rendition of their song “Mississippi” from their Grammy-nominated album “You Don’t Own Me Anymore.” And yeah, it was goddamn great.
Back to back covers late in the set just about put me over the edge, despite having seen Carlile sing them both at previous shows this year. It didn’t matter. This was Red Rocks and Brandi Carlile sang Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” and for the love of all that is holy in this universe, it was one of those moments that was a reminder of why the live music experience means so much to me. Hearing Carlile’s voice ring out in that Colorado night against a backdrop of piano and strings was everything.
No sooner did the Mitchell song end did Carlile and the band break into “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” I always like to remind people, in the interest of given songwriting credit where it’s due, that the song was written in the late 50s by a woman named Anne Bredon and the first famous recording of it was by Joan Baez in 1962. The version however that is arguably best known and most revered is the one recorded by Led Zeppelin in 1969 on their debut album.
Carlile made the song her own and I think the world might have damn well stopped spinning for a few minutes while she sang it. Here’s a great clip of her singing it on July 21 in Portland, Maine (where I live) with gratitude to the fan who captured this and posted it.
Hearing “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” at Red Rocks elevated the song to yet another level of rock perfection and is one of about 12 bazillion examples of Carlile’s vocal capabilities.
The last song they played before the encores was one I still can’t make it through without crying and that’s “Party of One” from “By The Way, I Forgive You.” I always think I’m going to survive and then the strings come in like a wave and I lose it. But at least I can say I’ve cried in four different states during the same song this summer.
Here’s a decent video by a YouTuber named Annalie Benjamin of the song being played at Red Rocks.
I dried my eyes and we were all rewarded with the return of the band to the stage for three encore songs beginning with a when-in-rome esque medley of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High” and “Sunshine on my Shoulders.” It didn’t suck one bit that the band’s former fiddler Jeb Bows joined them for this little slice of magic. Hell even I sang along.
Next up was the sing-along of the ages with the song “Hold Out Your Hand” during which every kid of the band came out on stage not to mention former White House (when we had a sane POTUS named Obama) photographer and friend of the Carlile clan, Pete Souza. And so did Shovels & Rope and The Secret Sisters. The devil sure as shit wasn’t getting our souls that night. We were in the throes of redemption in the form of a glorious song.
But perhaps what gave me the biggest chills of the night was “Amazing Grace.” I’d been to shows before when fans were asked to shine their phones. But this was something altogether different and I think everyone there knew it.
Shout-out of gratitude to YouTuber RESphoto for capturing this:
It was perhaps the finest example of how pristine the acoustics are in the natural wonder of Red Rocks , a place that took more than 200 million years to form.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful” said Carlile at the end of the song and she was absolutely right. This was one time that the prevalence of technology at a concert made for an unforgettable live music moment full of wonder, full of angelic vocals and full of upwards of 9,000 fans who knew this was something special.
I’ll always be thankful that I was one of them.
I’ll end with seven words that you’ ll just have to trust me on:
GO SEE A SHOW AT RED ROCKS
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When I walked into the Rickie Lee Jones show the other night at AURA in Portland, Maine and plunked myself down in my front row (to the left a bit) seat I had no intentions of writing about it. I was there strictly as a fan. I had bought the tickets months ago the moment they went on sale and had been quietly feeling the slow burn of anticipation for the show. But 47 seconds into “Weasel and the White Boys Cool” I couldn’t help myself, I pulled out my notebook and pen and started scribbling notes because my jaw was on the floor by how fantastic Jones and her two band-mates sounded.
Rickie Lee Jones is a national treasure as far as I’m concerned. She’s one of our songwriting greats and her vocals are unique in that no one sounds quite like RLJ. Her voice is clear and bright but also jazzy and moody, depending on the song.
Some people think of Jones simply in terms of the 1979 track “Chuck E’s in Love” from her debut self-titled album. OK. Fine. The song’s terrific and all. But man alive, there’s SO MUCH more to her career than that. In fact, on that very same album is where you’ll find the song she closed out her show with in Portland the other night called “Coolsville.”
“And now a hungry night you want more and more/And you chip in your little kiss/Well I jumped all his jokers/But he trumped all my tricks” is just a tiny bit of the spellbinding lyrics. At times her vocals sink so low you swear she’s shaking hands with the devil.
Jones played acoustic guitar most of the night but did sit at a baby grand piano for a couple of songs. She was accompanied by a terrific electric guitarist named Cliff Hines and a sensational percussionist named Mike Dillon.
She did hit us with “Chuck E.’s In Love” early on but no complaints because, again, it’s a damn good song and this was version was a stripped down chilled out one.
Jones’ third song of the night is one of her finest lyrical moments and it’s another one from that famous first album that is just shy of celebrating its 40th anniversary.
“Last Chance Texaco” is straight-up one of the best songs out there by anyone. When Jones started playing I for real got the chills and came damn close to having to pinch myself.
“A long stretch of headlights bends into I-9/Tiptoe into truck stops/And sleepy diesel eyes/Volcanoes rumble in the taxi and glow in the dark/Camels in the driver’s seat/A slow, easy mark.”
Jones sounded as good -if not better- on this night in Portland than perhaps I’ve ever heard her before. This was about my 5th time seeing her live.
The show continued along its riveting course with “Love Is Gonna Bring Us Back Alive.” It’s from the 1989 Jones album “Flying Cowboys” which is nothing less than sacred to me. The album was my gateway into knowing and loving the music of Jones.
With an easy smile, sparkling eyes, blue dress and black beret, Rickie Lee Jones looked genuinely happy up on that stage and although I wish the show had been maybe two or three songs longer, every second was captivating and it reminded me SO MUCH of why I love her music.
Other holy-bananas-this-is-so-great moments from the show included “We Belong Together” and “Living It Up” from her 1981 “Pirates” album, her interpretation of the Arthur Hamilton penned standard “Cry Me A River” which Jones told us was made famous by Julie London in the 50s, “Mink Coat at the Bus Stop” from 2003’s “The Evening of My Best Day” and “Cloud of Unknowing” from 2003’s “Ghostyhead.” Oh and especially “Eucalyptus Trail” from 2009’s “Balm in Gilead” with the lines “All my old friends have gone underground/They fall so hard, I am the last of my kind in this town.” This seems like the perfect line to end with because Rickie Lee Jones has always felt like an old friend and I’m glad sure glad she resurfaced to put on such an extraordinary mid-week show in Maine.
Here’s a clip someone shot in Paris, France last month of Jones playing “We Belong Together” which I’m sharing so you can hear for yourself how goddamn glorious Jones still is live.
Let me say this right out of the gate: K.D. Lang is one of the greatest singers on the planet as far as I’m concerned. I put her vocals right up there with Judy Garland in terms of sheer excellence. Her version of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” from her 2004 album “Hymns of the 49th Parallel” is the only one I care about. And her take on “Black Coffee” from 1988’s “Shadowland” and Cole Porter’s “So in Love” from the 1990 benefit album “Red Hot + Blue” will forever kill me. I love this woman’s voice SO MUCH. Oh and right, then there’s her take on Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Good God in heaven.
I hadn’t seen Lang live in years. Like since the 90s if memory serves. And so I found myself filled with a sense of longing and joy when I heard she was on the road celebrating the 25th anniversary of her 1992 “Ingenue” album. (the tour started last year for those of you doing math out there.)
Fast forward to last Thursday night in Boston where I sat about 15 rows back in a not sold-out but damn close crowd entirely enraptured with Lang and her STELLAR seven-piece band as they served up all ten tracks of “Ingenue” like a fine wine.
Before I spill my heart out about how much I loved this show, let me quickly say that I LOVE it when artists mark anniversaries of albums by taking them out on the road and playing them in their entirety. I’m looking at you, Brandi Carlile and Shawn Colvin and U2 as a few recent examples. We live in a shuffle play world but I immensely appreciate hearing an album performed in the order in which it was originally sequenced. And this is especially true with “Ingenue” because this album is like a fantastic voyage of climbing a ladder that leads straight to the core of the human heart beginning with “Save Me” and ending with one of the 90s’ finest musical moments: “Constant Craving.”
After a scintillating opening set from Australian guitar duo the Grigoryan Brothers the house lights dimmed and the stage lights lit up to the sounds of “Save Me” and then Lang’s vocals started and it was downright spiritual because, and I can’t emphasize this enough, SHE SOUNDED AMAZING. I looked at my friend Jen with my jaw dropped and settled in for what proved to be a luxurious and musically spellbinding performance of a divine album which, by the way, Nonesuch Records has released a 25th Anniversary edition of which includes a second disc of “MTV Unplugged Tracks.”
After the first three tracks of “Save Me,” “The Mind of Love” and “Miss Chatelaine” Lang told us they were going to play the rest of the album pretty much without stopping and this proved to be an excellent decision because the album flows so well and banter between songs wasn’t needed.
“Outside Myself” with the lines “I have been in a storm of the sun/Basking, senseless to what I’ve become/A fool to worship just light/When after all it, follows night” is my favorite track on the album and I will forever bow to Lang and Benjamin Mink for writing it.
But for sure the rightful moment when we all lost our minds (in a subdued but none-the-less thrilled manner) was then Lang and company closed out “Ingenue” with the Grammy-winning tune ““Constant Craving.” What a way to end an album.
When “Ingenue” ended the show was far from over and Lang’s next tune was “Honey and Smoke” from the 2016 album “case/lang/veirs” that she made with Neko Case and Laura Veirs. If you don’t have the album GET IT. Trust me on this.
Then we heard “I Dream of Spring” from Lang’s 2008 “Watershed” album during which she played an acoustic guitar. The song is slow and moody and like everything else we heard in Boston at this show, it sounded goddamn glorious.
This brings me to what I’m calling the “H3” part of the show. Lang sang three covers all starting with the letter H and all written by her fellow Canadians.
First was Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me”, next was Neil Young’s “Helpless” and finally Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which you already know how I feel about.
Needing to catch a bus back home I had to dash after “Hallelujah” but from what I gather, Lang and her band closed out the show with “Sing it Loud,” the title track from the 2011 album “K.D. Lang and the Siss Boom Bang: Sing it Loud” album. It’s a breezy, charming tune and next time I won’t miss it. The last song of the night is one that Lang’s never recorded but has sung a number of times through the years. It’s called “Sleeping Alone” and the song is honey sweet, sexy and a perfect way to say goodnight with. Damn me for not being there for it. Sleep is, after all, over-rated.
So what’s the takeaway from all this? I’ll repeat my opening sentence:
K.D. Lang is one of the greatest singers on the planet as far as I’m concerned.
Last night I had front row seats to see Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters play a sold-out show at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre. A few weeks ago I was ticketless but planned on hopping on a bus to Boston with the hopes of scoring a last-minute ticket on the street but then a friend swooped in and invited me to join her. It wasn’t quite clear to either of us just how good the seats were until the usher escorted us as far down front as one could ever hope to go.
In the weeks leading up to this show I listened to the hell out of Plant’s latest album, the tremendous “Carry Fire,” released last fall and assorted other tracks from the 10 previous albums that he’s released since 1982. Through this process I was able to answer an important question before stepping foot into that theater:
Would I be able to be fully present seeing the 2018 Robert Plant and in a sense, meet him where he was today? Or in my mind would I be the 13-year-old version of myself who stood alone at the end of junior high dances listening to what was always the last song of the night? Of course the song I’m referring to is “Stairway to Heaven.” Would I be able to reconcile in my head that I would be seeing the dude who I still hear ALL THE TIME on two different classic rock stations here in Maine singing songs that still kill me like “All My Love” and “Going to California?” Could I leave 13-year-old me and the Zeppelin version of Plant back in that happy nostalgic rock vault of my mind and be 100% present in the here and now knowing that I would be seeing someone who I’ve never quite considered to be entirely human but rather a musical deity?
The answer was a resounding YES.
It became clear to me within the first few notes of the show’s opening song “New World” from “Carry Fire” that this was going to be an entirely brilliant show by Plant and his spectacular band.
Look, I’ll level with you: Having seats that close and having Robert Plant standing about a dozen feet away from me for sure hit me in the proverbial feels. I’m only human and I had several flashes of “Holy God! That’s Robert Plant!!!” I mean for the love of God, Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands that ever was and not unlike when I saw Roger Waters last fall, I almost had to pinch myself a few times. But not often because most of the time I was too busy rocking out and enjoying the show and the damn near overwhelming artistry of the band. In fact, the Sensational Space Shifters are so good l need to take a moment to tell you who they all are:
Justin Adams on electric and acoustic guitar, oud, and percussion, John Baggott on keyboards, moog, loops and percussion, bassist Billy Fuller, drummer Dave Smith, Liam “Skin” Tyson on dobro, electric and acoustic guitar, and opening act and newest Space Shifter Seth Lakeman on fiddle.
All told, Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters played 15 songs. Several were from “Carry Fire,” a few from previous albums and I’ll end the suspense now by saying, yep, they did indeed play a handful of Led Zeppelin songs. Different arrangements of course but still with the bones of the original takes.
Vocally, Plant’s voice has evolved. At 69, he’s still got those legendary pipes, he just uses them differently. His voice has a texture and depth to it that doesn’t need to howl like he did in the Zeppelin heyday. His is a voice that carries the songs down a bluesy, rootsy, Americana river. He digs deep when he needs to but doesn’t try to burn houses down with it. It’s another finely-tuned instrument amongst the others in his exceptional band.
So let’s get down the nuts and bolts of this show. All told Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters played 15 songs including “New World,” “The May Queen” and “Carry Fire” from the new record. The rest of the set was a melange of tracks from “Lullaby And…The Ceaseless Roar,” “Mighty ReArranger,” “Raising Sand” (the album he made with Alison Krauss,) “Dreamland” and “The Principle of Moments.” I’ll tell you about the Zeppelin tunes in a minute because these aforementioned songs need some serious accolades dropped on them.
2005’s “The Mighty Rearranger” is home to one of my absolute favorite Plant songs. “All The King’s Horses” is a a delicately gorgeous song. Hearing it live was profound.
“Swift and true straight to my heart,
Love has come calling and I’m back here again
I pour myself a brand new start
Glad to be falling for the beauty within”
In 2002, Plant released the “Dreamland” album with a cover of a Bukka White song called “Fixin’ to Die.” This was a song played in Boston with its teeth bared.
“In the Mood” from 1983’s “The Principle of Moments” was the show’s first encore and Plant exuberantly exclaimed “I’m in the mood, Boston!” during it. And so were we.
“Rainbow” from 2014’s “Lullaby And…The Ceaseless Roar” was another standout Boston moment.
“I’m reachin’ for the stars
In the sky above
Oh, I will bring their beauty home
The colors of my love
And I will be a rainbow
Now your storm is gone”
As for the Led Zeppelin songs. I was hoping that Plant and his band would play at least one but I never expected to hear an astounding five.
The first one was “That’s the Way” from Led Zeppelin III, released in 1970. It’s one of the most stirring and lovely songs I’ve ever heard. Sitting here writing this review a little over 12 hours after the show ended I frankly can’t believe I heard him sing it live. With acoustic guitar, standup bass and some kind of tiny mandolin, the song was transcendent.
From that same album comes the traditional tune “Gallows Pole.” The Boston performance of it turned into an all-out hootenanny with foot-stomping and hand clapping.
On Zeppelin’s 1969 debut album they covered a tune penned by Anne Bredon in the 50s and recorded by Joan Baez on her 1962 live album. When Plant and company launched into “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” the crowd went crazy and that certainly includes me. There was a massive acoustic guitar interlude in the middle of it that was jaw-dropping from Liam Tyson and it just about had me on the floor. The entire song clocked in somewhere in the neighborhood of ten minutes and every second was spellbinding. Plant’s vocals were on fire, the band was on fire and the entire room was on fire.
It took a few moments for it to sink in, because it was different from the 1971 original, that “Misty Mountain Hop” was happening. But once Plant sang the lines “Walkin’ in the park just the other day, baby/ What do you what do you think I saw?,” I really don’t know how it could have gotten any better. Mad props to Lakeman’s soaring fiddle on this one.
The evening ended on, upon reflection, the best possible way it could have ended. After a trippy, psychedelic intro far removed from the 1969 original, Liam Tyson played one of the most significant guitar riffs a music fan could ever hope to hear.
I thought I was gonna have a heart attack when his guitar screamed out with “Whole Lotta Love,” soon joined with Plant singing “You need cooling/Baby I’m not fooling.”
I caught myself a few times during it hearing the original version in my head but set those thoughts aside to fully absorb this 2018 interpretation which was interspersed with parts of the traditional sea shanty “Santy Anno.”
This was the moment where two worlds collided; mini-me growing up hearing Led Zeppelin songs on the radio and coming from my brother’s stereo and present day music lover me who walked out of this show with a profound appreciation of present day Robert Plant and his out of this world band.
Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters tour continues and if you have a way of catching one of the shows by all means DO SO. Even if I had absolutely no idea who Plant was and hadn’t known a single song I would have loved this show immensely. True musicianship across a wide range of material led by guy who is indeed mostly human but will always be something of that fabled deity who has meant so much to so many for so long.
Here’s a few glimpses of what I saw last night. Video editing props as always to Shamus Alley.
When you’ve been waiting far too long to see a band you love, I say go all in! Which is exactly what my friend Kathryn and I did at the First Aid Kit show at the House of Blues in Boston.
When tickets went on sale last October we bought general admission floor seats and also kicked in an extra $20 each for pre-show access to The Foundation Room which is attached to the House of Blues. This was a damn good decision because I never wanted to leave said room because it was like being in a far flung corner of heaven that looked like a Zen lounge with Buddhas and couches and little rooms and built-into the wall tables and incredible art and an all around calming vibe. And proper, low lighting too!
What’s more, we got to enter the venue when the doors opened through a special entrance. When the clock struck seven we were able to make the proverbial “mad dash” and snagged a spot right up front. And when I say right up front I mean RIGHT up front. My arms were draped over the barrier between the photo pit and stage. I thought to myself “why not?” and it ended up being the right decision because the show was a thousand perfect spectacular and although sometimes the sound can be not as good when right up front, such was not the case at this show; it was PERFECT.
After an outstanding opening set from Van William, Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg took the stage at 9 p.m. sharp along with a keys player/trombonist, drummer and pedal steel player/guitarist/mandolinist; all of whom were first-rate players. Johanna plays bass and Klara plays guitar and together they’re a force of nature; especially when the vocals start.
From my spot Klara was right in front of me and her sister Johanna was about a dozen feet away. They opened the show with “Rebel Heart,” the first track from their latest album “Ruins.” Side note; If you haven’t listened to “Ruins” yet, for the love of all that is holy, make that a priority. The album’s a damn masterpiece. “Rebel Heart” is moody and emotional and I can’t think of a better one to set the tone for the entire show. Vocally, the song is like Jack climbing the beanstalk in that it goes higher and higher and ultimately reaches high into the heavens. Hearing it live also brought with it a sigh of relief for me. I was FINALLY seeing First Aid Kit live and holy shit, it was amazing. “It’s a Shame” came next and it’s another favorite “Ruins” track.
Rather than give you a blow by blow of the entire setlist I’ll instead tell a few of the standout moments as long as you promise to believe me when I say that every nano second of this show was spot-on perfect. First Aid Kit really is THAT GOOD. A few times I turned around to look at the thousand people behind and above me and knew that we were all witnessing something special.
One of these special moments was the title track to their “Stay Gold” album. Hearing it live gave me happy chills that I’m still feeling days later.
This brings me to perhaps the most potent song of the night and it’s one they released as a single last year on International Women’s Day. The song was written in response to hearing about a lenient sentence of a convicted rapist. Klara and Johanna were fucking pissed and wrote a fierce, truth-bomby song about it. And this was months before the #metoo and #timesup movement. “You Are The Problem Here” has these lyrics: (and I’m including several lines because this is important.)
“I am so sick and tired of this world
All these women with their dreams shattered
From some man’s sweaty, desperate touch
God damn it, I’ve had enough
When did you come to think refusal was sexy?
Can’t you see the tears in her eyes?
How did you ever think you had the right to
Put your entitled hands up her thighs?
You are the problem here
You are the problem here
No one made you do anything
You are the problem here
You are the problem here
No one made you do anything
And I hope you fucking suffer”
Suffice to say it brought the house down. When it ended Klara and Johanna told us “Ladies, we have your backs and we love you.”
I had barely caught my breath when First Aid Kid played my favorite song from “Ruins” called “To Live a Life.” Sharing lyrics again because I love them SO VERY MUCH.
“I wrote you a letter
To make myself feel better
To redeem some part of me
I thought I had lost
And we were a lost cause
Long before we fell apart
‘Cause honey, I was too eager
And you were too smart
Yet I look for you
In these empty rooms
You’re a phone call away
I’m on the interstate
And I’ve been drinking cheap wine
Just to pass the time
I’m falling behind
And it doesn’t matter
Who you are to me”
The song is slow and the pedal steel guitar was played just enough along with acoustic guitar. When Klara and Johanna’s voices collided it was like music was showing me the face of God.
And there there was the dreamy “Fireworks” and the oh-my-god-are-you-kidding-me cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You,” that I pretty much lost my mind during. And there was “EmmyLou” and, well, you get the idea.
During the encore, Van William came out and sang his song “Revolution” with First Aid Kit. I found myself singing along as it’s something of a radio hit and since Klara and Johanna are on the album with William it made sense for them to sing it with him during the live show. Damn fine song. After “Master Pretender” from the 2014 album “Stay Gold” it was time to close out the show with another song from that album. “Silver Lining” is the first song I ever heard from First Aid Kit and it’s been a personal anthem for me and I suspects thousands upon thousands of other fans. It’s a song that never grows old and one that always does its job of inspiring me, lifting me out of a dark space and helping me to do just what it tells me to do; keep on keepin’ on. Hearing it live by a band that stood just a few feet away from me in a room of other adoring fans was a moment I won’t soon forget. Klara and Johanna are still in their mid 20s and I can’t wait to see what comes next for them. “Ruins” is their 5th album and in three weeks since it’s been out has received high praise and understandably so. They’ve struck a nerve with their lyrics, their harmonies, their playing and their message. I absolutely bow to them.
Here’s a few quick segments I shot from my to-die-for spot. With huge appreciation as always to my pal Shamus Alley who will always have way more technical skills and patience then I ever hope to possess.
THANK YOU First Aid Kit for making my first time seeing you so memorable and moving.
I’ll start by saying that the Saturday night Dresden Dolls show at the Paradise Rock Club was one of the best nights of my life.
So yes, this is my review of The Dresden Dolls show in Boston on November 4, 2017.
The story however begins back in February of 2005 because that was the first time I saw The Dresden Dolls live. It was at the tiny Space Gallery in Portland, Maine. The entire show, professionally shot, lives on YouTube. Sometime when you have an hour and a half, click hereand enjoy. I was right up front and it was glorious.
Here’s the thing; I could write thousands upon thousands of words and hit you with a zillion clips, etc. and it still wouldn’t be enough to sing the praises of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione of the punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls. It’s a long, long story. But if you’re unfamiliar with them and are curious, do some googling and clicking and when you come up for air, you just might find yourself as spellbound as I am over them.
I am however going to tell you why the show, which was the middle one of three sold-out nights at The Paradise Rock Club was so significant, so memorable, so satisfying and so completely overwhelming.
It begins with a fellow Dolls fan named Jessica who posted on the show’s Facebook event page something along the lines of “hey I’m going solo, anyone want to hang out by the stage with me?” I responded with “I’ll be there, let’s hang!” A bit later a Brit named Toby commented that he too would be alone and could he also join us? Of course he could. A few other people chimed in as well. It was hours before the show and I was already having a good time. That’s the thing with Dresden Dolls shows, we all kind of love each other, at least for one night. We’ve got each other’s backs. It’s special. I know that might sound silly but it’s true, it always has been.
And so I joined Toby -who had flown in from London just to go to this show – in the line outside the Paradise about an hour before the doors opened. He was chatting with a woman named Jacque, here from Manhattan for all three shows. Soon after Jessica joined us. The sidewalk bonding had begun, a nip of Dr. McGillicuddy’s Mentholmint schnapps was handed to me which I promptly downed (my first one and I dare say it was tasty) and when the doors opened at 7 p.m. the four of us managed to secure spots at the far left of the stage, pretty much in front of Amanda Palmer and with a perfect view of Brian Viglione and his studded Chuck Taylors that I’m very envious of.
Our posse immediately grew by several more people and the show began at twenty past eight when Amanda and Brian took the stage to much hysteria from the crowd and started us off with “Girl Anachronism.” Holy fuck. My new friends and I started to properly freak out and the freak out continued for just under three hours. The thousand other people who were packed into The Paradise also rode the Dresden wave of ecstasy. I imagine we all love them for different reasons. First, there’s Brian Viglione. He’s a drumming deity who can play a bunch of other instruments. Watching him play is like watching a kid running wild in a candy store and his skill is without end. Speaking of candy, here he is tossing Starburst into the crowd.
And here’s Brian doing his thing. He plays with a level of animation and passion that is joyful to watch and listen to. He also has an exceptional sense of fashion. That jacket kills me. Be sure to check out his other band Scarlet Sails.
And then there’s Amanda Palmer. Palmer is probably the most out there musician I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a fan of. And I mean “out there” as a massive compliment. She shares more of herself than most and has a heart the size of a small planet. I’ve interviewed her a couple of times through the years for the Portland Press Herald (Maine) and she’s genuine, kind and will pretty much talk about anything and everything.
Palmer engages with her fans on social media regularly, is willing to be bold in the face of adversity and there’s an unspoken level of trust between she and her fans. She keeps what needs to be kept private and has boundaries like the rest of us, but there’s very little she won’t talk about and if you haven’t read her book “The Art of Asking” yet consider yourself very much nudged. But the thing I love most about Amanda Palmer is her songwriting. No topic is off-limits; abortion, masturbation, sex, love, life, death and anything else you can think of. She’s also an accomplished pianist and when she sings nothing else that’s going on matters much.
The songs she and and Brian recorded for the Dolls’ handful of albums are sacred to me. They’re sacred to many people. This is why they sold out three shows at The Paradise. This is why every time they reunite to play shows we all freak the fuck out and scramble to get tickets.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you may have noticed a running theme, which is the fact that I have a very difficult time sometimes being truly present. It’s complicated. But there are times, like on Saturday night, that I’m able to let go of my worries and be the version of myself that I like the most, the version who is in the moment down to her bones. And OK, fine, I wasn’t driving that night so I may have had a few too many whiskeys thanks to both close proximity to the bar and the generosity of some of my new friends. And also because the show felt like a celebration. Jesus H. Jamesons. Jesus H. Jack Daniels. I had an absolute blast soaking in the show – and the booze – with my friends, singing along, screaming our heads off. And here’s a fun fact; if you were at that show let it be known that it was yours truly who handed Amanda a Jamesons. I mean why wouldn’t I? I was having a hell of a good time and she looked thirsty. Fan to artist moment of appreciation. All good.
The Dresden Dolls’ setlist was 21 songs (give or take) long and I’ll include it below. From album cuts to b-sides to exquisitely well-chosen covers, they chose well (despite not playing my beloved “Jeep Song.”).
As I mentioned, the Dolls hit the ground running with “Girl Anachronism” and kept it up song after song. My personal favorites of the night were “Missed Me,” “Mrs. O,” “Half Jack,” “Backstabber” and “Gravity.” But if I’m going to really nerd out, I’ll say that I loved every song and couldn’t believe how intense, wild, fun and crazy this show was.
They ended with a hardcore super deluxe favorite of mine and I’ll reveal that momentarily.
Now about those covers. Dresden Dolls OWNED Madonna’s “Material Girl” and played the hell out of the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Pop. They invited fans to dance on stage while Brian played guitar, Amanda played drums and everyone in the room sang along with The Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right.” They’re take on PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me” was also spectacular. But the cover that really, really killed me at this show was Ani DiFranco’s “Napoleon,” one of many brilliant songs from Ani’s “Dilate” album from 1996. Hearing one of my favorite bands play one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists off of one of my favorite albums was EVERYTHING. And then some. Oh and then there’s Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam,” a song I first discovered by way of David Bowie in the 80s. They’ve been playing this one for years and I hope they never stop. It’s a passionate tale of a song and Amanda walked off the stage, up across the balcony and back onto the stage while singing it. I mean why wouldn’t she?
The first encore song was “Amsterdam” followed by another audience singing every note one; Coin-Operated Boy. And then it was time. I crossed my fingers and held my breath and was rewarded with – we all were rewarded with- “Sing.” This song touches me on almost a molecular level.
These lyrics have never rung more true than they do RIGHT NOW:
“There is thing keeping everyone’s lungs and lips locked
It is called fear and it’s seeing a great renaissance
After the show you can not sing wherever you want
But for now lets all pretend that we’re gonna get bombed
And you bet we sang. It was beautiful and human and powerful. It was the PERFECT song to end with. When the show was over my new friends and I said our goodbyes knowing we had just shared something profound. I hope that feeling never wears off.
Here’s my montage of clips shot from my amazing spot. Editing props to Shamus Alley.
Thank you, Brian and Amanda for giving us everything you had last night. Thank you to my fellow fans for being cool and mindful and kind and so into it like I was.
Here’s the setlist that is based on my notes and one I found online. I’m not 100% sure that this is 100% accurate but it’s pretty close.
Dresden Dolls. Paradise Rock Club. 11.4.17 Girl Anachronism, Dirty Business, Missed Me, Ultima Esperanza, Pirate Jenny,Mandy Goes to Med School, Shores of California, Mrs. O, Gravity, Glass Slipper, Thirty Whacks, Victim, Material Girl (Madonna), Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones), “Fight For Your Right” (Beastie Boys), Rid of Me (PJ Harvey), Napoleon (Ani DiFranco), Bank of Boston Beauty Queen, Backstabber, Half Jack, Amsterdam (Jacques Brel), Coin-Operated Boy, Sing.
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.
Tori Amos has been making me feel all the things since before feeling all the things was even a thing.
My first time seeing her was at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA on April 27, 1992. This was of course the “Little Earthquakes” tour. The Iron Horse is a tiny, historic venue and my friends and I were the last ones in and because the place was already packed the three of us were seated on a bench just off the the side of the stage. In other words; insane seating that I’ll never forget. The 1992 version of myself sat there in awe of what transpired for the next hour and a half. From “Crucify,” “Precious Things,” “Silent All These Years” and the other-worldly title track it was a transfixing show from a woman who straddled her piano bench in a acrobatic way and who held my heart in her hand with every note sung and played. I’ll especially never forget when she hit us with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” The wind was knocked out of me and I’ve been gasping for breath ever since. After the show my two friends and I tapped on the dressing room door and she opened it and welcomed us in where we sat and chatted for about 15 minutes. She was lovely. I’ve been a hardcore fan ever since and used to be a rabid collector or every Tori related thing I could get my hands on; mostly import CD singles with b-sides, live tracks, etc. Because that’s how it was being a Tori fan. I was all in. I still am.
Since that first show in 1992 I would estimate I’ve seen Amos live about a dozen times. Sometimes solo, sometimes with a band and always magnificent. I don’t mean to hit you with such a profound cliche but I’m goddamn going to. There is truly no one quite like her. Like many of her fans, I literally can’t imagine my life without the “Little Earthquakes,” album. Not to mention “Under the Pink,” “Boys for Pele,” etc etc etc. She writes from a place that not everyone can access. It’s like her brain and heart and soul all converge and the songs arrive from the sky on umbrella clasping pixies. Or something like that. We may never know. What I do know is that Tori Amos is one part goddess, one part genius, one part sorceress and one part tender-hearted human. Listening to her music is is like visiting an astral plane. And it’s like therapy because she goes places with her songs that will rip your guts out and make you weeplike you’ve just discovered what crying is and you’re not sure if you’ll be able to stop.
Which brings me to last night’s show in at one my favorite spots on earth, the Orpheum Theatre in the heart of Boston. It has been six years since my last Tori show and my fellow hardcore Tori fan and friend Laura and practically genuflected before walking in. This was, somehow perfectly, soon after walking right by another goddess outside the venue by the name of Amanda Palmer. But that’s a WHOLE other story. My immediate reaction was to stop and talk to her but we kept on walking because, I don’t know, it seemed like the right thing to do at that moment. I’ll be seeing Amanda’s band Dresden Dolls on Saturday night at The Paradise, also in Boston, so look for that review soon. But know this: I am almost surprised that the earth didn’t stop spinning for a few moments when both of these women were in the same room at the same time. Jesus. H. Christ.
Laura and I repaired to entirely wonderful seats about seven rows back in the center section of the balcony and enjoyed a nifty set from openers Scars on 45.
And then it happened. At about twenty past eight. The house lights dimmed and out walked Tori Amos dressed in a turquoise blue(ish) silk blouse, black leggings and her beloved high-heels. She gave us a wave and took her spot on the 18 inch high rectangular platform where she sat between two pianos, including her signature Bosendorfer grand. It was time for the Boston stop on her “Native Invader” tour to begin.
Despite still recovering from one of the world’s worst colds of my life, I for real stood up and screamed for joy. It could not be helped. Many of us did. Tori joy cannot and should not be contained.
Tori started the show off with “Ileee” from her 1998 album “From the Choir Girl Hotel” and a feeling of pure bliss overcame me. Nothing else in the world mattered other than this exact moment. This is rare for me, more rare than you can possibly know.
And then Tori Amos played the second song of her show and Laura and I both had tears in our eyes. For me, it was like 25 years of my life flashed before me. Emotions stabbed at me, old demons visited, my heart felt like a pinata being shown no mercy. And I loved EVERY second of it. The song? “Little Earthquakes” with these lines:
Oh these little earthquakes
Here we go again
These little earthquakes
Doesn’t take much to rip us into pieces
And these lines: Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again.
The song ended and I turned to Laura and said “the show could end now and that would be OK.”
Tori, however, was just getting started. She played another 15 songs spanning several albums including “Reindeer King” from the mesmerizing “Native Invader.”
Tori pivoted on her stool back and forth from one piano to the other, never missing a beat. On more than one occasion she played both pianos simultaneously.
I had several heart attacks during the show, especially during “Cooling,” “Northern Lad,” Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Lloyd Cole’s “Rattlesnakes” and “Honey.”
She ended with “Beauty of Speed” but we knew she’s be back for an encore. A minute or so later, Tori walked back out on stage and stood before us. I did the only thing I knew how to do at that moment. I screamed “Precious Things” in the loudest voice I’ve probably ever used in my entire life. And while I am not taking credit for it, I all but collapsed in a Tori Amos induced fever when she launched into the song.
Tori closed out the night with “A Sorta Fairytale.” I love the song and although I may have chosen a different one to end with it did not detract from what was was a truly enthralling night of songs from one of my favorite artists. BTW, vocally, she’s sounding as strong, vibrant and well, Tori-esque as she ever has.
Tori Amos has 15 studio albums and about a zillion b-sides and such out in the world. It’s never too late to start your own voyage of discovery. Start with the new one “Native Invader” and work your way back. Or start somewhere in the middle. Or start with “Y Kant Tori Read” or the sacred “Little Earthquakes.” But prepare yourself for an emotional journey like none other.
And if you ever get the chance to see her live, either on this tour or the next one, GO SEE HER.
Ah yes, The Psychedelic Furs. My love for them dates back to the 80s and centers around their first four, magnificent, albums.
These four albums are still perfect and songs like “Sister Europe,” “Imitation of Christ,” “India,” “Mr. Jones,” “Dumb Waiters,” “She is Mine,” “Into You Like a Train,” “All of This and Nothing,” “President Gas,” Love My Way, ” “Sleep Comes Down,” “No Easy Street,” “The Ghost in You,” “Heaven,” “Here Comes Cowboys,” “My Time” and “Highwire Days” (among others) still kill me. They released three other albums after these; “Midnight to Midnight” in 1987, “Book of Days” in 1989″ and “World Outside” in 1991 but I’m less familiar with those save for the singles “Heartbreak Beat,” “Angels Don’t Cry,” “Shine” and “Until She Comes.” I don’t know why I haven’t fully embraced these “later” albums. Perhaps I’ll get there. But the fact remains, those first four are sacred parts of my record collection and they always will be.
As a gal in her 40s, I’m fortunate that I saw the Furs a few times in the 80s and have very fond memories of shows at the Orpheum in Boston as well as the Boston Common and a show at what was then called Great Woods in Mansfield, MA.
But I hadn’t seen them since then. That was until four years ago when , much to my heart attack worthy delight, a tour brought them through Portland (ME). A posse of us old Furs fans went and the show at what was then The Asylum was incredible.
YouTube, you sure do come in handy. Here’s a clip I just found from that night in Maine of The Furs playing “Highwire Days.”
As you can see and hear, they sounded FANTASTIC. I saw them two more times after that, once more in Portland at Port City Music Hall and then during the summer of 2016 (with The Church no less!) at Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. And those shows were also stellar.
But there was something extra special about seeing them in Boston, the city I first saw them in when parents had to drive my friends Becky and Sue and I into the city. We all grew up in Andover, MA and I’ll never take it for granted how great it was having easy access to Boston.
This time around I met up with two college friends from Keene State. Nancy, Melissa and I all knew each other because we were all involved in some capacity with our college’s radio station WKNH.
Nancy hadn’t seen the Furs since 1992 and Melissa had never seen them. I was just as excited to reunite with them and share their excitement as I was to experience the show myself. I love that feeling. Don’t you?
So there I was, sitting outside at T’s Pub on Saturday afternoon, the 14th of October waiting for my friends to show up. I happened to choose the seat facing the street and facing the Furs tour bus. Alone, I sat there, looking at my phone as one does, sipping a beer and spacing out when what to my wondering eyes should appear walking by me was none other than Furs lead singer Richard Butler. 40 something me played it cool. 15 year old me called out his name. He was only a few feet away walking by so in an even-toned, casual voice I just said “Richard Butler.” He turned, smiled, waved and said hi and continued on his way. I returned the wave and smile and that was that. It’s a funny thing to have an encounter like this. Through the years I’ve been fortunate as both a fan and as a music journalist to have met some of my favorite musicians. A few have even become friends. But it’s an entirely other thing to say hello to a singer you’ve been a fan of since high school. I nerded out immediately and shared the news on social media because the day I become too jaded to do just that is a day I don’t want to ever experience.
There was no opening act that night for The Furs and the doors opened at seven with an initial wave of hardcore fans filing in. Nancy, Melissa and I entered about a half hour later or so and found good enough spots in the balcony area. The Paradise is a tricky venue because unless you’re right up front it can be tough to see so the balcony was our best bet.
A round of drinks and much nostalgia later, the clock struck nine and holy shit, I just about shrieked when David Bowie’s “Warzawa” started playing. We heard maybe the first two minutes. David Bowie’s my freaking life and I can’t believe this was their “walk out” song. WELL PLAYED!!! Jesus.
Here’s a clip someone shot of “Warzawa” into “Dumb Waiters”
The Furs established right out of the gate that they are still a fantastic band. Richard Butler’s vocals were sensational, Mars Williams is still an absolutely incredible sax player, Tim Butler still has his bass chops and the rest of the band as far as I’m concerned, are absolutely perfect. What’s more, the entire night had Butler jumping around with more energy than I ever hope to have. And the dude’s 61. My theory, he’s a yoga-practicing health nut and is reaping the benefits of a healthy lifestyle but that’s just a guess. Either way, he looked dashing in a tailcoat, black trousers and sunglasses and sang the hell out of an hour and a half worth of classic Furs tunes.
Every single person (about 1,000) of us at that sold-out show felt all the things during “The Ghost In You” and “Love My Way.”“Heaven” was heavenly, ” “Pretty in Pink” was a nostalgic romp back into the land of John Hughes and Molly Ringwald (though us purists prefer the original version better) and “All That Money Wants” was, well, right on the money.
This brings me to the encore. The Furs could not have chosen two better songs to say goodnight with. Both from their first album, both absolutely divine and such a part of the 80s alternative fabric forever part of my musical DNA.
There was minimal banter between songs throughout the entire concert but it didn’t matter. What mattered is that The Psychedelic Furs were tremendous some 40 years after first forming in 1977. They are not a nostalgia act. They’re too good to be relegated to that pigeonhole. Art rock, post-punk, new wave, alternative. Whatevs. Call it what you will. I call it glorious and still relevant and as for their Saturday night show in Boston, I loved every single minute of it and so did my friends. I hope the Furs keep right on touring. I’ll be there.
It’s been 48 hours since I saw U2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on June 25, 2017.
Still tired yet still smiling, I’m sitting at my kitchen table in my newly purchased U2 t-shirt and hoodie and have finally figured out what I want to say about the concert experience of Sunday night.
So much has already been said about this band and about this tour that’s celebrating the 30th anniversary of their magnificent album, The Joshua Tree. So much has already been said about how U2 is one of the greatest bands that the world’s ever known. So much has already been said about how their live shows are pretty much a religious/spiritual experience. So much has been said about Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry.
So what can I add to the conversation? First I’ll mention some cool technical stuff that I received from the band’s publicists and then I’ll talk about the personal impact the show had on me.
But first, here’s a collage of photographs that I shot during the show with my iPhone. My friend Colin and I are hardcore fans and we had field seats. We got to the show before noon and spent a heck of a lot of time standing in assorted lines. But the end result is we were just a few feet from the “tree” stage that extended out from the main stage. Said another way; holy shit we were right up front.
So back to the cool technical stats that I think are worth sharing:
The stat: Dutch photographer and film-maker Anton Corbijn whose iconic photos are part of the original “Joshua Tree” album went back to Death Valley and Zabriskie Point among other spots to produce a new series of films that are projected behind the band in jaw-dropping 8K resolution on a 200 x 45 foot screen behind the band as they played.
My comment: I’ve never seen anything so massive and so spectacular. It added a whole other layer of depth and meaning to the show.
The stat: A specially commissioned film by French artist J.R. accompanied “Miss Syria” (originally titled “Miss Sarajevo”) was shot at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. This is home to 80,000 Syrians who were forced to flee their country.
My comment: To see such devastation on such a large scale was overwhelming. The film was shown while the band played “Miss Syria” and what’s more, a giant tapestry of a refugee woman that was probably 50 square feet was passed over and among the crowd on one side of the stadium. Incredible. Moving. Real.
The stat: Creative director for the tour is Willie Williams and he has been U2’s show designer on every tour since 1983.
My comment: Willie, you’re a genius. My first U2 show was at the end of 1984 and this most recent one was my 7th. They’ve all had different layers of brilliance.
The stat: The Joshua Tree tour stage is 200 x 40 ft and it is almost the full width of a stadium
My comment: Holy bananas. It was huge and it was perfect, especially with the backdrop.
The stat: The stage set features the largest un-obscured and highest resolution LED video screen ever used in a touring show.
My comment: Leave it to U2 to take it to a whole other level of multi-media awesomeness. This screen was from another planet. Incredible.
The stat: The screen is make up of 1,040 individual video panels. The 200 x 45 ft custom built screen is painted to look like a golden piece of cardboard and features a silver Joshua Tree. The tree extends above the screen and becomes the visual centerpiece of the show.
My comment: A feat or artistic and engineering mastery. I can’t even…
The stat: The B stage that extends into the audience from the main state is a perfect shadow of the tree that’s part of the screen.
My comment: Yep, they did that.
The amount of thought, design work, carpentry, electronic wizardy and all around technical magic is awe-inspiring. It’s not over the top, it’s not too much, it’s perfect and glorious. U2 doesn’t need any of this stuff. The first time I saw them was on the “Unforgettable Fire” tour and I don’t remember anything other than maybe a simple video screen. But they are all about being on the cutting edge of what can be done. And they do it so well. And what’s more, in the context of a giant stadium show, it very much added to the experience.
So how was the show? Actually, that’s not the right question I should be asking myself. Because yes, the show was INCREDIBLE. And being right up front was all the more special. The show was transcendent. The show brought me to tears. The show made me dance and made me sing and shout and feel just about every emotion a human can feel.
The right question came to me a few hours ago. Actually a slew of questions and here they are:
Did this show make me feel the way I felt when I first saw U2 as a teenager? Did it make me feel the way I did all those years ago when U2 were to me essentially larger than life gods? Did the show remind me of why I’m a music writer? Did the show remind me of why there are few things more important to me than music? Did the show keep me in the moment and out of my own often tormented head? Did the show reach right inside my heart? Did the show make me feel connected to everyone else there? Did the show make me genuinely care about the welfare of others? And when the show started with Larry Mullen Jr. walking over to his B stage drum kit and launching into “Sunday Bloody Sunday” did I feel a tremendous wave of love for this band crash over me that it was all I could to do hold myself together?
Did it do all that?
Here’s my one word review of the entire show:
Here’s the set-list: Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year’s Day, Bad, Pride (In the Name of Love), Where the Street Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With Or Without You, Bullet The Blue Sky, Running to Stand Still, Red Hill Mining Town, In God’s Country, Trip Through Your Wires, One Tree Hill, Exit, Mothers of the Disappeared, Miss Sarajevo (Syria), Beautiful Day, Elevation, Vertigo, Ultraviolet (Light My Way), One, The Little Things That Give You Away (new)
I’ll end with a compilation video of several song clips I shot from my to-die-for spot on the field. Editing props as always to my pal Shamus Alley.
THANK YOU U2 for a night I’ll never forgot. When you sang “Where the Streets Have No Name” I thought of my late father-in law. When you sang “Bad” I thought about a lot of things; both painful and beautiful. And when you sang “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” which is my favorite Achtung Baby song while images of powerful women who have made history in so many ways scrolled across that giant screen I cheered with everything I had.
I realized a longtime dream recently with my first ever trip to Nashville, Tennessee. It was pure magic to finally visit Music City and I crammed a lot into four days including a visit to the storied Bluebird Cafe, the famous Studio B, the super cool Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum and two consecutive nights at Ryman Auditorium seeing Brandi Carlile.
But the trip really began in a cave where I saw one of my super deluxe for life favorite bands called SHEL. Soon after my plane landed on April 22, my buddy Dave collected me at the airport and we drove about two hours to McMinnville, home of Cumberland Caverns. It’s there where Bluegrass Underground has been putting on shows for several years in an other-worldly spot called The Volcano Room. And it’s an honest-to-god cave. I’ve never seen anything like it and to see a show there by a band that I adore is an experience that’s forever etched in my heart and mind.
First I’m going to talk about SHEL then we’ll head down into that cave. SHEL is four Holbrook sisters from Fort Collins, Colorado and the name’s an acronym for their names. Sarah’s on violin, Hannah (pronounced Hahna) plays keys, Eva’s on lead vocals, mandolin and electric guitar and Liza plays drums, percussion and does this beatbox thing that’ll knock your socks off. They all sing , they’re all the their 20s and they’ve all been playing music most of their lives. Said another way, they’re all SENSATIONAL musicians.
I got hip to them last summer when they came to Portland. Since that late July night I’ve seen them perform four times, most recently in that Tennessee cave. Their one year anniversary of releasing their second album “Just Crazy Enough” is on May 13 and I’ll be raising a glass of Prosecco in their honor because they really are so very good. How good? At the end of 2016 I came up with my 14 favorite songs of the year and their tune “Hello is the Doctor in Today” is in the number one spot.
And if that’s not enough, their spellbinding cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” just surpassed the million view mark on YouTube. Not only is their take on it enthralling, Sarah’s got quite a knack for videography and they shot this while in Alaska last year.
I’m already counting the days until I see SHEL again which will be in August at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado. Know who else is on that bill? NBD. Just Gregory Alan Isakov, Lake Street Dive, Rhiannon Giddens, Dave Rawlings Machine and The Wailin’ Jennys among others. Whomever booked SHEL at this festival gets a high-five from me. Smart decision. Speaking of smart, Amos Lee also made a wise call last fall when he invited SHEL to open SIX shows for him. How cool is that? THIS COOL:
Now let’s get into that cave shall we?
After swinging through the gift shop/box-office building we were led down a dirt path and waited in groups outside this opening:
We wound our way through and down into the depths and it was one jaw-dropping moment after another. I mean this cave even had a waterfall in it. It is wired with electricity but they kept the lights on low which added to the intrigue. You had to watch your step but I can’t stress enough HOW COOL IT WAS.
After maybe five minutes or so and after descending just under 350 feet there it was; The Volcano Room. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I thought I had seen a few things in my life and God knows I’ve been to a least 87 zillion concerts but never had I seen anything quite like this. Just to see this place was breathtaking. But to see SHEL perform it in. It’s hard to put into words.
But then there they were.
I mean seriously…
The sound was GLORIOUS in that cave and for about an hour, SHEL CRUSHED IT. They played songs from both of their records, “Just Crazy Enough” from last year and 2012’s self-titled album. I shot a few clips and my skillful friend Shamus Alley put this together:
The encore song was “Enter Sandman” which was perfect for three reasons: Their interpretation of it is beautifully eerie and lovely and I’ll never tire of it, it was my first time hearing them play it live and the line “we’re off to never never land” was most certainly true in that cave.
The cave’s got snacks, restrooms and comfortable enough seats. But most of all, in case this hasn’t been made 100% clear: IT’S SOOOOOOOOOOO COOL.
Go see a show there. Check their schedule and just make it happen. Figure it out. Get a pal or 12 to go with you. You’ll never see anything like it. Trust me. I didn’t even know this place existed until a few months ago and I’m SO GLAD my first trip to Tennessee including seeing a band I love in a venue I’ll never forget.
How far would you go to realize a musical dream? For me the answer was just about 1200 miles; the distance from my driveway to Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN.
Until a few days ago I had never been to Tennessee, let alone Nashville, let alone the Mother Church of music that is Ryman Auditorium.
I guess I was waiting for just the right moment and that moment came in January when a friend here in Maine told me that Brandi Carlile was doing a handful of dates to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her incredible album “The Story” and The Ryman was one of those dates. The show was going to be Carlile and her band playing, in order, every song on that album and some of those tracks I’ve never heard live before.
And so I bought a ticket, booked a flight, found an Airb&b, sat back and smiled on a cold winter’s day. A few days later the smile grew larger as a second show was added and a ticket to that show was also secured.
Fast forward to Monday, April 24. I laid my head against the side of the Mother Church and had a moment of reflection and reverence for the historic building and then I had myself a whiskey in the attached Cafe Lula and waited for the doors to open for the 7:30 show.
I found my seat, about a dozen pews (yes pews, this is the Mother Church after all) back and to the left and sat in contained enthusiasm along with my fellow pew-mates and Brandi fans.
And soon after 7:30 on that Monday night in Nashville night one of two of the greatest nights of my life began as Brandi, the twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth and cellist/pianist Josh Neumann took to the stage and opened with “The Story’s” first track, “Late Morning Lullaby.”
I realized immediately the first reason why this was going to be such a special evening because I dare say the sound at Ryman Auditorium is the best I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been to at least 87 million concerts (give or take).
And there I was, in an entirely decent seat taking it all in, remembering to breathe and wearing a Nashville-sized smile.
They played the album in order and so the Phil Hanseroth penned title track was next and it was the first Brandi Carlile song I ever heard and it STILL kills me every time I hear it, whether it be live, on the radio or with headphones on walking.
“I climbed across the mountain tops. SWAM ALL ACROSS THE OCEAN BLUE.” It was all the more poignant and insane and beautiful and goddamn glorious at Ryman. Every single one of us in that audience on both nights lost our minds. I still don’t have mine back and I’m fine with that. Oh so fine.
“Turpentine” was next and again, such songwriting. This one Carlile wrote herself and it’s been an Aimsel theme song for the decade that I’ve known it.
Now’s as good a time as any to show you some video clips from these two shows. Know that I only shot short ones and did them as non-obtrusively as humanly possible. I promise, I wasn’t the annoying chick with the phone. These are from both nights and editing credit goes to my pal Shamus Alley.
The show continued on its path of “The Story” album and every song was an emotional groundswell of love, music and perfection.
About halfway through “The Story” tracks, Carlile shared with us the existential crisis-of-sorts she experienced three years ago when her daughter Evangeline was born. Carlile started thinking about the global refugee crisis, especially when it came to children. It was during this time that her wife Catherine Shepherd told her about War Child, based in the UK. Their mission is to protect, educate and stand up for the rights of children caught up in war. That’s when an idea was born…a big one. “The Story is the biggest rock we’ve got to launch at Goliath,” said Carlile and the end result is “Cover Stories.” All proceeds go to War Child UK. The album is all 14 songs of “The Story” covered by other artists including Dolly Parton, Indigo Girls, Pearl Jam, The Avett Brothers, Kris Kristofferson and even Adele. It’s available on May 5th but this fan pre-ordered it a while back and can’t wait for it to arrive.
Carlile surprised everyone by announcing that the album would be for sale during intermission and by the looks of it afterward, they sold just about every single copy they brought with them on CD and vinyl. WHICH IS AWESOME. She told us that they have a goal of raising a million dollars for War Child. I have every confidence they’ll do this…and then some.
A few more notes on “The Story” songs live at Ryman on both nights:
“Have you Ever” was a foot-stompin’, hand-clapping party with exceptional cello from Josh Neumann
“Cannonball” was performed at the front edge of the stage without microphones or amps and it further demonstrated how incredible the sound is at Ryman. “The Ryman is one of a kind,” explained Carlile and she proved the point quite well.
“Losing Heart” had only ever been played two or three times before this run of shows. It was awesome.
“Again Today” was my favorite of “The Story” tracks on both nights because Carlile sang it with a level of unfettered abandonment it just about made me cry.
Carlile, the Hanseroth Twins and Neumann closed out the set with “Hiding My Heart” and if the show had ended there I would have been more than OK because spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe what I had just seen and heard.
BUT THE SHOW WAS ONLY HALF OVER!
We got about another TEN songs on both nights, including several audience requests that got voted on by cheering.
Night one’s second set looked like this:
The Things I Regret
That Wasn’t Me (by request)
Jolene (hell yes, the Dolly Parton song)
Most Of All (brand new, absolutely gorgeous, heartbreaking song)
Beginning to Feel the Years (Brandi and the Twins performed this from the corner of the balcony. Amazing!)
Goin to California’ ( as in Led Zeppelin. I’ve heard Brandi sing this before but to hear it at Ryman. All words fail…)
Amazing Grace (with special guest The Secret Sisters!!!) We were all invited to sing along and many did. As for me, I stood there spellbound.
Night two’s requests were Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which I’ve long said too many people have covered but I ate my words when I heard Carlile sing it. She also hit us with “Keep Your Heart Young” and “The Mother,” another new one and three-year-old sweet-as-pie little Evangeline wandered over to Brandi for a visit before the song. Priceless.
Night two was also closed out with “Amazing Grace” sans Secret Sisters but no less wondrous.
Sidebar: During the day on Tuesday I decided to take the self-guided tour of Ryman Auditorium which was really great as it included a multi-media presentation explaining the building’s jaw-dropping musical history. During this tour I plunked down in the balcony and decided I wanted to sit there for night two instead of the first floor towards the back seat I had. As luck would have it, I scored a front-row almost center balcony seat and after snapping my first-three songs photos on that second night, and yeah, OK after sitting for another three songs in a temporarily unclaimed second row seat I took my balcony seat and it was like sitting on the edge of heaven. The sound was even better from there and the view pristine. Yeah for spontaneity!
And there you have it, the story of “The Story” and this fan and writer’s trip, or better yet, pilgrimage to the Mother Church that is Ryman Auditorium in Music City, USA.
It has been almost 72 hours since that second show ended but part of my heart and soul are still there. As they should be.
Thank you, Brandi, Tim, Phil and Josh.
Thank you, Nashville for welcoming me with open arms.
Thank you, readers of this post for letting me share an experience that will always be part of me.
“But these stories don’t mean anything. When you’ve got no one to tell them to”
You would have never known it was a Monday night by the enthusiasm and energy of the sold-out crowd at The State Theatre. The vibe started strong with outstanding opener Springtime Carnivoreand stayed that way all night long with Seattle’s much-adored indie-folk band The Head and the Heart.
It had been a couple of years since The Head and the Heart last played here and we welcomed them back with arms open wider than Steve Perry’s.
This was the second leg of the tour for their third album, “Signs of Light” which was released last fall. “Signs of Light,” by the way, is their first album on Warner Bros. Nice! The two that came before it are “Let’s Be Still” (2013) and their 2011 self-titled debut. Quick sidebar, “Lost in My Mind” from that first record is truly one of my favorite songs of the past several years. Right?
God I love that song. Now where was I? Ah yes, The State Theatre in Portland, Maine on Monday night, March 6. 2017.
So who’s in the band?
The Head and the Heart is Jonathan Russell (vocals, guitar), Charity Rose Thielen (violin, vocals), Chris Zasche (bass), Kenny Hensley (piano), Tyler Williams (drums) and Matt Gervais (guitar). If you’re a fan of the band than you already know that Gervais, married to Thielen, is filling in for Josiah Johnson who’s on hiatus from the band as he is in treatment for drug addiction. Suffice to say, all the love to Johnson.
I don’t always mention the stage when writing reviews but I will for this one because it was simple yet classy, adorned with several large plants (possibly fake but that’s OK) and several white hanging globe lights along with some basketball sized orange ones around the stage. Kind of Pier One Importey, and I mean that in a good way. There was also a big disco ball above the stage that did its job in casting white spots of light around the theatre in a way that wasn’t overbearing. I also totally dug the white neon “Signs of Light” sign hanging behind them.
The Head and the Heart played for an hour and a half, including encores and the show included songs from all three albums, many of which the very happy crowd was none too shy about singing along with. They opened with “All We Ever Knew” from the latest record and in no uncertain terms, it’s a damn fine tune. Harmonies for days.
This went right into another new one, “City of Angels,” driven by piano and guitar. Breezy song, entirely enjoyable live. The rest of show was, understandably so, heavy with “Signs of Light” tunes including “”Take a Walk,” and “I Don’t Mind.”
We got to hear Thielen sing lead a few times which was lovely as was her violin. As for the rest of the band, they were completely on-point. They’ve been at this for a while and it showed. There wasn’t much in the way of spontaneity but otherwise, they sounded as good as a band can sound in a theater with very old bones but a heart of gold.
As for my favorite “Signs of Light” song, that came during the encore with the gorgeous tune “Library Magic.” The song is dreamy and full of magical lyrics like this:
Makin’ music is what we do
Tryin’ to weave the patterns for me and you
Tryin’ to make the grasses breathe and a grown man cry
Truth and life is where I gleam
Tangled up in a funnel’s wind
Tryin’ to come out walkin’
Understand it’s beyond me talkin’
Tryin’ to come out walkin’
Understand it’s beyond me talkin’
Damn near perfect song.
The Head and the Heart ended the night with “Rivers and Roads” from their first record and we filed out of the theatre listening to Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” which reminds me, the band took the stage to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Five bonus points awarded for that.
I don’t have any honest-to-god criticism for the band or the show other than to say, and this could be from being on the road for so long- there wasn’t much in the way of audience engagement other than the obligatory telling us about the fabulous lobster rolls they had from Eventide.
But what I will say is that I looked around a lot during this show and people were INTO IT. Lots of smiling faces, singing along and roof-rattling applause and cheering. This is because The Head and the Heart write damn good songs and sing and play them incredibly well.