Having travelled to New York City's Livingroom many times to see Rebecca Martin, I couldn't pass an opportunity to see her play here in Philadelphia, at the new World Cafe Live on only it's third night open. Even though I had no interest in the headliner, it seemed worth the $20 ticket just for the opening set. Rebecca Martin as a member of Once Blue was responsible (with Jesse Harris) for one of my favorite albums of all time. In her solo career, she has turned away from the melodic pop music that Once Blue was so good at, and instead she has explored a form of introspective jazz music with vocals that is always a pleasure to listen to. What the music lacks in rhythm and melody, it makes up with tonal shadings and Rebecca's always appealing voice; I could listen to her sing the phone book.
Her last album, Middlehope consisted of mostly standards with two Jesse Harris compositions, one of which ("One Flight Down") became more familiar when Norah Jones later included it on her album. Rebecca's new album People Behave Like Ballads, the source for most of the tunes she performed during her half hour set, may be her best effort yet as a solo artist, with its all original jazz vocal pieces. Her excellent backup musicians for this show were Ben Monder on electric guitar and Larry Grenadier on acoustic bass. The new songs sounded great live, especially with Monder's ultra mellow electric guitar work. Her set also included a previously obscure Once Blue song "Out in the Rain" which was originally recorded for the second Once Blue album that was never released; the recent Japanese remaster of Once Blue includes those nine unreleased songs as bonus tracks. She ended with a brand new song, "You're Older." It is remarkable that music like this that is seemingly long on integrity and short on commercial potential can still find a place in the scheme of things, and I always consider it a privilege to be able to partake in it.
I find very few songs as annoying as the two Jill Sobule songs that I was familiar with going into this show: her best known song "I Kissed a Girl" which according to Jenn was written more as an attention getter than as an expression of sexual preference, and "Cinnamon Park" from her current album which is inexplicably getting heavy rotation play on WXPN with its piano riff lifted directly from Chicago's "Saturday in the Park". Despite my initial misgivings, and maybe partially because I was seated at a table with a family of three who were big fans of Sobule, I couldn't bring myself to walk out after Rebecca Martin's set, so I stayed to check out her act instead of rushing home for Monday Night Football.
I'm reluctant to admit it (even to myself) but dressed in a dumpy brown dress with a short skirt that displayed her somewhat scary looking legs with mid-calf suede boots, Sobule's spunky energy and ability to connect with her audience gradually wore down my resistance, and I found myself actually finding aspects of her performance to enjoy. She may be the only rock artist or singer-songwriter I've ever seen do "Sunrise Sunset" but as "the only Jewish girl at St. Mary's Academy" I guess it made sense; Condoleezza Rice also attended the same school according to Sobule.
Her best song was the Warren Zevon composition "Don't Let Us Get Sick" which she recorded for a forthcoming Zevon tribute disc, due October 19th on Artemis Records. She explained that Zevon wrote this song before he found out about his own illness. For "Big Shoes" she invited someone from the audience with a cell-speaker-phone to come onstage to call her (Sobule's) mom to do an answer verse over the phone into the mike as part of the performance of the song; a cute touch. "Cinnamon Park" on solo acoustic guitar without the Chicago riff was less gimmicky and was actually one of her better tunes. It struck me about this point in the show that Sobule reminds me a little of Cyndi Lauper only with a somewhat less engaging personality and less scary hair; their accents may give away some background in common.
For her encore, she explained that "I Kissed a Girl" had given her some unwelcome baggage but that she had recently come to grips with it to the point that she enjoys playing it again, and she then proceeded to unplug her guitar and walk out onto the dinner tables to sing it with no mike and no amplification. She finished the encore set with a nice version of "All the Young Dudes" and finally plugged back in for "When My Ship Comes In." I still wouldn't count myself as a Jill Sobule fan, but her set was better than expected, and I know a lot more about this artist than I did before so I'll put this night in the time well spent column.