Category Archives: Patty Griffin

Of Concerts Past: 3 Girls & No Buddy, 2/6/2009

tickets_large_x2It was a meeting of old friends, of a sort, except that we didn’t meet for dinner or drinks at a restaurant or bar but, instead, an evening of stories and songs at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, Pa., on Friday, Feb. 6th, 2009. Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin shared the stage while Diane and I sat in fifth-row seats, tapped our feet and said “wow” to one another after many of the songs. Buddy Miller, who was also slated to be there, bowed out in order to rehearse for a Grammy appearance backing Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. In a nod to him, however, the three women placed a “buddy bear” in the chair where he would’ve sat.

On the outside looking in, as Buddy’s a guitarist’s guitarist, one might have expected that the all-acoustic gig lacked fret work. Patty and Shawn, however, are more than qualified – each has probably played thousands of solo gigs – and Emmy, while far from a guitar goddess, more than holds her own.

Highlights abounded, and included Emmy’s opening “Red Dirt Girl” and heartfelt “Strong Hand (Just One Miracle),” which she wrote for June Carter Cash the night of June’s passing,

Also: Patty’s fierce “Stay on the Ride” (from her 2007 Children Running Through album); and harmony-rich, to-die-for renditions of the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back” and Patty’s own “Mary.”

Shawn, as is her wont, served up a few oddballs: covers of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

For me, though, the piece de resistance was Patty’s fiery “Truth No. 2,” which she wrote but most folks know as a Dixie Chicks song. (They sang it on their 2003 Home CD.) “You don’t like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth….”

As I recall, about the only negative was the song selection. Aside from “Stay on the Ride,” Patty veered away from Children Running Through, one of my top albums of 2007. “Trapeze,” a hypnotic ballad that features Emmy on harmony, seemed a natural fit; but it wasn’t to be. Likewise, “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)” – my favorite song of hers – didn’t make the setlist.

And, not to be outdone, Shawn also sidestepped my favorite song of hers, “Shotgun Down the Avalanche,” even after promising to play it when a fan (not me!) shouted out a request for it.

Even missing those songs, however, it was a good show. In fact, it’s safe to say that it was the best round-robin concert I’ve witnessed. That’s not really saying much in and of itself, though, as round-robin shows – for me, at least – are often as frustrating as they are fun. If you’re a fan of one or two, but not all three, four or five artists on stage, you wind up slumping in your seat half the night. And if you’re a fan of each, you can’t help wishing that they had more time to shine. This night, for instance, despite the concert running a little longer than two hours, the format only allotted Emmy and Shawn seven songs each and Patty eight, plus one group sing-along on “I’ll Be Back.”

(Unfortunately, no videos from this particular concert are on YouTube; and none for the three singing “I’ll Be Back.” So you’ll have of trust me when I say it sounded like three of God’s messengers delivering the Word from above; and, of course, the Word was Love.)

 

Live Music Is Better…

What a fun few weeks it’s been. Months may pass and there’s nary a show that interests us, then a spurt of concerts are announced, tickets are purchased and the calendar fills up.

This time, the run began on June 4th at the World Cafe Live Upstairs in Philadelphia. If you’ve never been there, it’s the smaller of the two WCL rooms, really no more than a restaurant-bar with a stage at one end. Capacity is likely 120 to 150, depending on how many tables are set up, but it’s rare that we’ve been there for a sold-out gig. This night the headliner was the Singer-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named; we first saw her in 1989 at the now-defunct Chestnut Cabaret, where she was backed by a crack band that included Dave Alvin on guitar.

Now, I’ve witnessed some bad performances – most concert-goers have. Back in the mid-2000s, for instance, the Australian alt.-country singer Kasey Chambers headlined the Keswick Theatre in Glenside while sick with the flu. Her voice was shot, she was near-delirious with fever and 40 minutes after the show began it was over. But, since my first concert in 1983 until June 4th, I’ve never witnessed an act deliver a thoroughly atrocious performance.

That is, I hadn’t until the Singer-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named stumbled to the stage with a glass of Maker’s Mark in hand. On a few occasions she launched into one song while her band began another – her mistakes, not theirs. And the second time was something she’d sung 10 minutes earlier! She also rambled near-incoherently, gave the finger to a WCL staffer who stopped her from bringing her dog out of the dressing room (it would have violated a health code), and rambled some more.

On the ride home, Diane mentioned that the show almost made her want to quit live music altogether. Hyperbolic, perhaps, but thankfully our next concert – which came a mere two nights later – stopped such talk. The singer-songwriter Patty Griffin took to the stage at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall with “Wherever You Wanna Go,” the lead-off track of her recent American Kid album, and proceeded to lay down an extraordinary 90-minute set that rocked the emotions even as it connected with the intellect. “Carry Me” from her classic 1998 Flaming Red album fed into “Ohio” from her new one and… wow. That “wow” extends to the hall – the acoustics, at least from our second-row seats, were incredible. The best I’ve ever heard.

That same night, the fabled ‘60s rock-R&B act the Rascals were performing theirOnce Upon a Dream revue, a stage show put together in large part by the E Street Band’s Little Steven Van Zandt, at the Academy of Music. We caught it two nights later, on Saturday. Essentially a history of the band, the 30 song-strong set was interspersed with pre-recorded interview segments, as demonstrated in this clip of “Mickey’s Monkey”-”Love Light.” At times the pre-recorded bits stole from the momentum of the music, yet even with that it was wondrous to hear such songs as “How Can I Be Sure,” “Groovin’” and “People Got to Be Free.”

The final concert of the run came last Wednesday at one of my favorite venues, the Keswick. It’s not as plush as Verizon Hall and the acoustics aren’t the best – but it’s much closer than Philly, and parking is free. (Always a plus, in my book.) The act: the early-1980s practitioners of perky pop, the Go-Go’s, who sound as good now as they did back then. (One day they should tour with the Bangles and bill themselves as the Bang-Go’s. Just a thought.) To say the night was flat-out fun would be an understatement. People stood and bopped about to most of the songs, including – of all things – a Kiss (!) tune during the pre-encore flurry of “ Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat.” Also included in the mix: the Belinda Carlisle solo hit “Mad About You” and the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” If heaven was a place on Earth, that night it would’ve been in Glenside!

Of course, it’s only normal to compare and contrast concerts when you see a few in a short amount of time. Me, I generally subscribe to the Neil Young school of thought: “Live music is better/bumper stickers should be issued.” They’re all good and great.

Unless, that is, it’s the Singer-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Then warning labels should be affixed.