Category Archives: 2003

Of Concerts Past: Maria McKee in Philadelphia, 6/10/2003

Our stop at the Boot & Saddle to see Juliana Hatfield two weeks back reminded me of the North Star Bar, where I saw the Absolutely Sweet Maria McKee on her much-anticipated (by me, at least) High Dive tour. The Boot & Saddle, for those who’ve never been there, is your basic bar with a sizable backroom and stage; and the North Star, which closed in October 2015, was your basic bar with a sizable side room and stage. Both fit about the same number of bodies, I think: 150, maybe 200 if the fire marshal’s not looking. The main difference: at the North Star, at least on this night, the sound from the bar bled into the music room.

At the time, the Little Diva and her band were on tour in support of High Dive, her first release since her genre-bending 1996 album Life Is Sweet. Gone, still, was the country-rock overtones of her early days; instead, the CD tempered the glam and glitter of Life with elements of baroque and operatic rock. To quote (and lightly edit) the review I left on Amazon in 2006: “The tracks, in total and apart, have a narcotic-like effect; one listen and you’ll be hooked. ‘In Your Constellation’ has a Neil Young-like vibe, a la ‘Like a Hurricane,’ that sends me flying into the stratosphere and higher; ‘Be My Joy’ is, well, just plain intoxicating; and the dramatic ‘Non Religious Building’ is as potent as songs come. I was hesitant about the remake of ‘Life Is Sweet’/‘Afterlife’ … but, ya know what? It’s as good as the original – and the backing vocals are to die for, both there and elsewhere. My album of the year for 2003.”

As Diane can attest, I played it the way I play most albums I fall for – over and over again. In the month and a half between its April 22nd release and this show…did I listen to anything else? Of my own accord, no. With Diane? Yes. (Such sacrifices are what sustain a marriage, after all.) By the night of the show, I was primed. Bouncing-off-the-walls primed. Maybe Maria’s career hadn’t taken flight in the way she’d hoped since Life Is Sweet, but the new music she was making meant (and still means) as much to me as the alt.country prototype she built with Lone Justice and on her first two solo albums.

Anyway, of the show: Certain memories survive. I remember her guitar soaring through “Absolutely Barking Stars” along with her voice, which – I swear – felt like a ghost inhabiting my body. It was deliciously intense, in other words. Here she is playing it a few months later in Hamburg (from the 2004 Live in Hamburg CD):

“High Dive,” as on album, was brilliant:

“Shelter,” one of my all-time favorite songs, was another highlight. Here she is from a few years later performing it:

“Breathe,” too, was mesmerizing – but when is it not? It was sparse and dramatic, similar to this performance from 10 years earlier…

“In Your Constellation” was simply phenomenal; it swirled like the cosmos through the room. Afterwards, she talked about Bruce Springsteen and his influence on her music, singing a snippet of… “Rosalita,” says Diane…before launching into a dramatic reading of his “Candy’s Room.”

The philosophical “Something Similar” closed the main portion of her set.

Unlike the Boot & Saddle, where the entrance to the stage is basically through the audience, the North Star Bar had stairs with a slight overhang leading off the stage. As Maria and band were leaving, she hit her head – a loud thwack followed by her “ow!” echoed through the room. She returned a few moments later – and sang a song so good she recorded it twice: “Life Is Sweet.” She then left the stage, no doubt making sure to duck before descending the steps.

The (possible) set:

  1. I Can’t Make It Alone
  2. Absolutely Barking Stars
  3. From Our TV Teens to the Tombs
  4. High Dive
  5. Be My Joy
  6. To the Open Spaces
  7. Shelter
  8. Dixie Storms
  9. Breathe
  10. Non Religious Building
  11. I’m Awake
  12. In Your Constellation
  13. Candy’s Room
  14. Something Similar
  15. (Encore) Life Is Sweet

The Essentials: Joss Stone – The Soul Sessions

Great albums transcend time. Such is the case with The Soul Sessions, the debut album of Joss Stone. Released in the U.K. on September 16, 2003, and in the U.S. a few weeks later, it contains stirring renditions of nine classic songs of the 1960s and ‘70s as well as the White Stripes’ “Fell in Love With a Girl” (reworked as “Fell in Love With a Boy”). At times, she sounds a bit like Dusty Springfield on steroids, her voice buoyed with passion, grit, weariness and a dreamy lilt, and sometimes all of that at once.

Did I mention that she was a mere 15 years of age at the time of its release? You’d never guess it from hearing her sing. (To borrow a line from Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird,” “she got soul.”) As many a critic has noted, she sounds like someone who’s experienced the ups and downs of life for decades, if not longer.

Wikipedia has an in-depth overview of the album. The upshot: It peaked at No. 4 on the British charts and No. 39 on the U.S. charts; accrued much acclaim; and remains, at least to my ears, a wonder. The songs may be covers, but Joss makes them her own. Here she is, for example, singing “The Chokin’ Kind,” which was written by legendary songsmith Harlan Howard and first recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1967. R&B singer Joe Simon had a No. 1 R&B hit with it two years later. She nails it.

Other highlights from the album include:

The songs:

  1. The Chokin’ Kind
  2. Super Duper Love
  3. Fell in Love With a Boy
  4. Victim of a Foolish Heart
  5. Dirty Man
  6. Some Kind of Wonderful
  7. I’ve Fallen in Love With You
  8. I Had a Dream
  9. All the King’s Horses
  10. For the Love of You