Category Archives: Concert

Remember December, Vol. I: Concerts of the Year

Any year that I see Juliana Hatfield in concert is a good year. And a year when I see her twice? Logic, at least my logic, says it should be good times two – i.e., great. And to see Juliana cover not one but two Olivia Newton-John songs while backed by Wesley Stace & the English UK? The surreal sweetness of the moment just can’t be beat. For that alone, 2017 should be damn near the best year of them all.

But this has not been a normal year. It’s as if someone spiked the water supply with mescaline in January and the hallucinations have yet to end. I’ll sidestep diatribes about America’s answer to Hugo Chavez, the human Scrooge McDucks that call themselves Republicans, and the leches that call themselves men, and instead share this:

When the music starts, we just slip away – just like a river rollin’ down…

Live music often has a more visceral impact than via CD, LP or digital download. It’s an immediate connection. You feed off the performer, he or she feeds off you and … you’re there, wherever there is, not stoned but STONED, and not from drink or drugs but from the music itself. The worries of the world cease to be, albeit for a few hours, and when you leave the venue you feel spiritually renewed.

From Lights Out in January to Patterson Hood (of the Drive-by Truckers) this past Thursday, and including such stalwarts as Graham Parker, Garland Jeffreys and Shawn Colvin, we enjoyed more live music this year (21 shows by my count) than the past few years combined. Some shows were good, others great, and a handful absolutely sublime.

First, though, a caveat: As all things “best of” on this blog, I work from a deck stacked by my aging demographic, idiosyncratic tastes, and budget. I enjoy singer-songwriters with folk-rock and/or country overtones, and delight in discovering new artists within that realm, and generally rock out to the same artists I’ve rocked out to forever and a day, including (but not limited to) Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, the Kinks, Joan Jett, Paul Weller and Juliana Hatfield, among others.

And, with that, here’s Remember December, Vol. I: Concerts of the Year. (Click through to read my original reviews.)

1) Paul Weller with Lucy Rose at the TLA, 10/4/17. This show fell in what was the awful week that included the mass shooting at a country-music festival in Las Vegas and the passing of Tom Petty. Perhaps that explains the jubilation I felt at being able to forget, if only for a few moments, and let go. And, too, it was just a killer concert.

2) Kasey Chambers at the World Cafe Live, 7/5/17. Breathtaking. That’s the only word for this show, which found the Aussie country-music maven weaving heartfelt odes from thin air. Even now, watching this video, I’m stunned at how good she is.

3) The Juliana Hatfield Three at the Boot & Saddle, 4/24/17; and Juliana Hatfield with Wesley Stace & the English UK at the Ardmore Theater, 10/12/17. When formulating this list, I found myself going back and forth as to which of these shows should be third or fourth on my list. At the Boot & Saddle, Juliana and the Three personified “brutal grace.” It was raw, raucous, loud and great, and – given than the bulk of the setlist was Pussycat-heavy, cathartic. The only strike against it were the muffled vocals.

The Ardmore show, both in her solo set and when backed by the English UK, was near the reverse, with an expansive set list that included such gems as “Slow Motion” and “Somebody’s Waiting for Me,” and way-cool covers of two Olivia Newton-John songs. Here’s one:

Watching that clip again, just now, I couldn’t help but to smile.

Anyway, both shows spoke to me in equal measure. Her songs, new, old, rocking, mid-tempo or ballad, are ingrained in my soul. So, why rank one above the other? For the purposes of this list, the two concerts are a tie…

4) Courtney Marie Andrews at the Boot & Saddle, 5/9/2017. As I wrote in my review, this was as magical and mesmerizing a concert that I’ve had the pleasure to witness in my concert-going career. Courtney reminds me of Shawn Colvin circa the early and mid-‘90s, who synthesized a wide swath of influences into a hypnotic whole.

5) The Staves at the World Cafe Live, 3/9/2017. What did I love about this show? Everything! Within moments of its start, it felt as if we’d stepped through a time portal to some point in the early ‘70s. About the only thing missing: bell-bottom jeans.

And, finally…honorable mentions: Bruce Springsteen on Broadway was the definition of compelling, but not a conventional concert due to the monologues. Thus, I’m not including it within my Top 5 (though, if I did, it wouldn’t knock Weller from the top spot). Also, Garland Jeffreys at the World Cafe Live Upstairs was grand; Lulu at the Sellersville Theater was wondrous; Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer at the World Cafe Live were sublime; and Tift Merritt at the World Cafe Live was utterly captivating.

As Tift sings, “Love Soldiers On.” And it does.

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Springsteen on Broadway, 11/24/17

The lights grew dim; and a spotlight zig-zagged its way across the stage. Suddenly, a silhouette appeared as if out of thin air. It belonged to that noted song-and-dance man, Bruce Springsteen, who was decked out for the occasion in top hat, black tie and long tails. He also carried a cane – not for walking, but dancing. The orchestra swelled into a jaunty rhythm and the Boss began a soft shoe, tap-tap-tapping his way across the stage. “Give my regards to Broadway,” he croaked, “remember me to Herald Square…” He extended an arm; and the longtime Ginger Rogers to his Fred Astaire, Patti Scialfa, twirled into his embrace, and delivered her patented lush harmonies on the next lines. “Tell all the gang at 42nd Street/That I will soon be there…”

Nah. Just kidding.

Prior to the show, on our way to the Walter Kerr Theater, I found myself – much to Diane’s chagrin – singing “On Broadway,” the classic Drifters song. In many ways, it’s apropos to Springsteen on Broadway, in which the Boss mixes monologues about his life’s experiences with curated songs from his expansive catalog. His has not always been a luxurious life, and there were moments early on where it seemed it might never be. He was working the Jersey Shore circuit, after all, which guaranteed anonymity; and when lightning finally did strike, and he signed with Columbia Records, his first two albums didn’t exactly catch fire. “They say that I won’t last too long on Broadway/I’ll catch a Greyhound bus for home they all say/But they’re wrong, I know they are/I can play this here guitar/And I won’t quit until I’m a star/on Broadway.”

I don’t wish to spoil the show for those who lucked into tickets but have yet to see it, so will do my best to remain circumspect. I’ll just say that, in a way, it’s reminiscent of the 2005 Devils & Dust tour: Bruce plays acoustic guitar much of the night, though there are a few sojourns on piano, too. Patti also lends her harmonies to two numbers, and provides the inspiration for Bruce to sing the first line of the Exciters’ “Tell Him.” But it’s not an all-music affair; no one should enter expecting a “concert.” Think of the (much-bootlegged) introductions to “Growing Up” and “Independence Day,” among other songs, when Bruce paints vivid word pictures that are often as riveting as what follows – that, translated to an acoustic setting, is what this is. The soliloquies are sometimes funny, often profound, and always spellbinding.

The show is biographical, but not biography, with the shared vignettes being both personal and universal. That it’s in an intimate (by Bruce standards) setting makes it all the more special. The Walter Kerr Theater seats 975 people, and the sight lines – aside from one very tall person thankfully not blocking our view – were great from our vantage point in row N. Pictures aren’t allowed, though by the last song many people had their cameras out. (Which explains the shot up top.)

For the set list, which has remained static thus far, scroll below the picture of Yours Truly…

  1. Growing Up
  2. My Hometown
  3. My Father’s House
  4. The Wish
  5. Thunder Road
  6. The Promised Land
  7. Born in the USA
  8. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
  9. Tougher Than the Rest (with Patti)
  10. Brilliant Disguise (with Patti)
  11. Long Walk Home
  12. The Rising
  13. Dancing in the Dark
  14. Land of Hope and Dreams
  15. Born to Run

Shawn Colvin at the World Cafe Live in Philly, 11/1/17

In some respects, life is little more than a succession of ephemeral moments that fit like bricks into the design that is the present; and the present is little more than the latest iteration in that never-ending stack of interlocked instances.

Life, in other words, is akin to a never-ending construction project – a thought that occurred to me on Wednesday, November 1st, when Diane and I saw singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin at the World Cafe Live in West Philly for the umpteenth time. We first saw her in the early ‘90s – at the TLA in 1992, I believe, on the Fat City tour. And though we haven’t seen her every time she’s come to town since, as time and circumstance (and money) always play a part, we’ve seen her more times than I can count.

I first heard her crystalline voice during my Folk Show days in the mid-1980s, when she was a semi-regular fixture on the Fast Folk Musical Magazine series. Some early morns I was lazier than others, and I’d drop one of those compilation LPs onto the turntable and play two or three or more songs in a row. (She and Lucy Kaplansky often sang together, it seemed, though that may be my memory playing tricks on me.)

But, honestly, the folksinger I normally looked for on those comps wasn’t Shawn, but Suzanne – Vega, that is. It wasn’t until Shawn’s debut LP, Steady On in late 1989, that I signed on as a fan. The title tune, “Diamond in the Rough,” “Shotgun Down the Avalanche,” “Ricochet in Time” – well, what can be said? They’ve stayed with me.

This latest concert was in support of the “20th Anniversary Edition” of her platinum-selling 1996 album A Few Small Repairs album, which is home to the Grammy-winning “Sunny Came Home.” (That October 1st marked its 21st anniversary wasn’t mentioned.) After opening with Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers,” she played the album from start to finish, and shared stories behind several of the songs – “Get Out of This House,” for example, was born from her loathing of the writing room in her then-new house.

That’s not my video, I should mention. We were in the front row, far right – a bad angle, as the picture up top and one below shows.

Another insight: “Wichita Skyline,” another of the album’s highlights, was about her childhood in South Dakota, but she changed the locale due to John Levanthal’s melody, which pays homage to “Wichita Lineman.”

My favorite moments of the night came during the encores, which included a sterling cover of the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back.” (And just as when she, Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin performed it back in ’09…no one appears to have captured it.) “Steady On,” too, was grand:

Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, who opened with their own set before backing Shawn, were very good, too. During their set, Larry explained that he and Shawn go way, way back. He got his start playing in a band with Buddy Miller, and she joined in 1980. So they’ve played together, on and off, for decades. During her set, Shawn recalled a pre-fame gig in Albany when they played four 45-minute sets a night.

I actually would have preferred, I think, a 25th anniversary celebration of Fat City, or at least the addition of the one-size-fits-all-song that is “Polaroids” (she used to turn it int a medley) to the set. But, personal preferences aside, it was a great show.

That said, here she is in 1994 on the BBC performing “Polaroids”…

Here’s the setlist, though I believe I may be missing one of the encores…

  1. Wildflowers
  2. Sunny Came Home
  3. Get Out of This House
  4. The Facts About Jimmy
  5. You and the Mona Lisa
  6. Trouble
  7. I Want It Back
  8. If I Were Brave
  9. Wichita Skyline
  10. 84,000 Different Delusions
  11. Suicide Alley
  12. New Thing Now
  13. Nothin’ on Me

Encores,

  1. I’ll Be Back
  2. Steady On
  3. Tenderness on the Block
  4. Diamond in the Rough