Thursday, April 27, 2006

Melody Gardot & Lizanne Knott - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 4/27/06

It would be hard to imagine an experience more cathartic than enjoying a beautiful spring day by taking a half hour walk across town to hear two local singer-songwriters perform a lunchtime concert at the World Cafe Live to promote their upcoming May 6th show at the same venue. Melody Gardot most likely attracted some new listeners performing on WXPN's Philly Local Live concert broadcast last October. The bio on her website describes recording her cd Some Lessons, from her hospital bed while recovering from an automobile accident. Her musical career, considering the physical limitations of the disability she was left with, is truly inspirational. Performing today on acoustic guitar with a drummer playing snare with brushes, Melody laid down a really nice jazzy groove on her guitar while doing songs from her cd, as well as some new songs that she is in the process of recording now. It was great to see her looking and sounding so well.

Lizanne Knott performed an enjoyable set of tunes from her latest cd, Under the Burning Sky, with some songs drawn from her first cd, Limited Edition. Lizanne played acoustic guitar accompanied by the always reliable Jef Lee Johnson on electric guitar, last seen in a similar role at Milkboy Coffee backing up Lelia Broussard.

Johnson's appearance was a treat, but having glanced at Lizanne's website before the show, it did not come as a complete surprise considering that the connection is Lizanne's husband Glenn Barratt who did such a superb job producing Lelia's current cd. It was great to finally hear Lizanne and Melody play live. Both will be back on the bill with singer-songwriter Kristin Diable on Saturday night May 6th at World Cafe Live upstairs. Remember to click on each photo to enlarge. All photos © W.Kates, 2006.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Greg Brown - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 4/22/06

Nobody can take an empty stage armed with nothing more than a slightly beat up guitar and a microphone and totally transfix an audience quite like Greg Brown, which is exactly what he did tonight at the World Cafe Live. The downstairs venue was packed, and unlike most recent shows there, the crowd was reverent and respectful, no talking during the performance and no shouting out except when requested.

Another thing that no one does quite like Greg Brown is to meld folk, country, jazz and blues into a style that is uniquely his own, centered on acoustic blues. No matter whether he's singing his own compositions or covering songs by others, they all become Greg Brown songs when he sings 'em. Greg's open minded approach to live recordings has allowed his fans to really develop a high appreciation for what he does in live performance; he allows live recordings provided that they not be sold or posted on the internet. The result is that excellent concert recordings of Greg are shared by participants in his discussion group. From listening to a good number of such recordings over the past year I've come to realize that this man has an amazing grasp of American music of many different styles which he can draw from at will and combine with his own excellent songs to create compelling concert sets seemingly on the fly. Jerry Garcia had a similar well of country, folk, blues, jazz and bluegrass music to draw from and the Grateful Dead are well known for never doing exactly the same set twice; I believe the same can be said for Greg Brown.

Tonight's set had lots of blues and lots of great covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Mose Allison, Robert Johnson, Son House, and Greg's wife Iris DeMent. Sometimes he doesn't talk much between the songs and just lets the music do the talking, as was the case when he played Irving Plaza in New York last year. Tonight however, he treated the audience to many great stories and detailed song introductions. At one point he asked if David Dye was still doing the World Cafe radio program (he does, and although they share the name by a licensing arrangement, the radio show and the venue are completely separate operations). Greg went on about having done that show many years ago in a tiny little room (at WXPN's old building) and how David asked about how he came up with his songs and he answered with something about getting telegrams from people under the ground. He went on to joke about artists trying to explain the songwriting process, ending up with the conclusion that "life is mysterious."

After playing a Mose Allison song, "Ever Since the World Ended" he told a great story about wanting to write a tribute song to Allison and finally finding the right inspiration at the Dingo Bar in Albuquerque New Mexico. While he was waiting to go on at this dive, he noticed a picture of Mose Allison on the wall and wrote the song right there in the Dingo Bar. After telling the story, he did the song, "Mose Allison Played Here". Later in the set he asked if there was anything anyone wanted to hear and he was deluged with requests from the audience to the point that he was reminded of another great story I'd heard him tell once before on one of the concert recordings. It had to do with someone telling him after a show, something to the effect that "I bet you couldn't play longer than I could listen." Well, the next night at a party he wound up putting this claim to the test, and when everyone else had gone, he was still playing and the guy was still listening until about 4am when the guy began to keel over. He then ended the set with his song "Jesus and Elvis" after which the appreciative crowd brought him back for two encores. Remember to click on each photo to enlarge. All photos © W.Kates, 2006.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Weepies - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 4/20/06

The Weepies played a very tuneful and listenable set tonight at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. They seemed surprised at the size of the sellout crowd in the upstairs venue and continually expressed their appreciation to the audience for coming to see them. The Weepies backstory may be equal parts happenstance and destiny but it is storybook all the way. Deb Talan and Steve Tannen were each already taken with each other's music when they met at Club Passim in Cambridge, Mass. where Steve was appearing in support of his first cd. They began writing together that very night and the rest as they say, is history. Check out the Weepies website and their MySpace page for the complete story as well as a generous number of complete tunes from all their albums which stream on the website for a free listen.

After recording a total of five solo cds between them, they joined forces as the Weepies, indpendently releasing their first cd Happiness in 2004. A recent sold out performance at New York's Living Room led to a contract with Nettwerk Records and their just released second effort and major label debut, Say I Am You.The music is solidly acoustic melodic folk/pop with a healthy dose of electric guitar in the mix. During tonight's show, the first of a national tour, Deb and Steve played acoustic and electric guitars, switching off from time to time. For the first six shows of this tour including tonight's show, they are accompanied by a bass player whose name I didn't catch, and by Meghan Toohey on electric guitar. The tour includes three sold out nights at Club Passim, with a fourth show just added, another sold out show at the Living Room, then it wends its way out to the west coast and finally crossing the Atlantic for summer festival dates in England, Ireland, and Scotland's T in the Park Festival.

The set included ample portions of both the Weepies cds as well as a solo track or two. "Vegas Baby" and "Jolene" from the first album got a great crowd reaction as did "Take it From Me" from the new album. Dedicated do-it-yourself-ers from carrying their own equipment to collecting mailing list info on a yellow pad, Deb made a beeline to the merchandise table as soon as the set ended, where she could be found meeting the fans and selling cds and t-shirts. Deb and Steve are both incredibly down to earth, wholesome, cute, friendly, funny, and most of all talented singer-songwriters who made tonight's show a complete pleasure. Remember to click on each photo to enlarge. All photos © W.Kates, 2006.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Sia - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 4/15/06

Zero 7 seems to collect talented vocalists like some musicians collect instruments. They were up to four alternating lead singers on When It Falls(2004), and music lovers everyhere are in their debt for giving Tina Dico, Sia, Sophie Barker, and Mozez worldwide exposure for their remarkable vocal talents. It was obvious from her solo records as well as her two Zero 7 projects that Sia Furler is an amazing singer with great musical taste, but the depth and quality of the live set that she and her excellent band performed tonight at the World Cafe Live was surprising even still.

The band consisted of keyboard, bass, drums, guitar and cello, the cello adding a really nice flavor to the sound. The mix was wide open leaving plenty of room for Sia's awesome vocals, and yet every instrument could be heard perfectly in a venue that has the best ever sound and lighting. This performance was truly as good as it gets.

The songs were mostly from Sia's latest solo release, Colour the Small One(2004) which was finally released here in the States in 2005 after "Breathe Me" was featured in the final episode of the HBO televsion series Six Feet Under. She played a number of Zero 7 songs including "Destiny", "Distractions", and "Somersault". She did "Blow it all Away" from her previous solo record Healing is Difficult(2002), saying that although she doesn't like that album much, she does love this song. She offered up a new song, "Lentil" and an excellent cover of "I Go to Sleep", the Pretenders tune written by Ray Davies.

Between songs her self-deprecating sense of humour was very appealing, as was her genuine appreciation for the audience. At one point she asked if everyone was okay and whether she could do anything for anyone, and some guy asked for a beer and very shortly a stage hand gave her one which she handed to the fan; a nice touch. Ultimately, the depth and beauty of the music made this a truly memorable night. Here's the complete setlist:

  • Don't Bring Me Down
  • Destiny
  • Blow it all Away
  • Lentil
  • Numb
  • I Go to Sleep
  • Breathe Me
  • Sunday
  • Sea Shells
  • Distractions
  • Somersault

Eagle and Talon, a guitar and drum duo, opened the show with a set that was long on energy but almost totally devoid of melody. One can only hope that these kids will benefit from the enviable position of being able to hear Sia perform every show of this U.S. tour, and absorb some of the intense musicality that characterizes all of Sia's work. Remember to click on each photo to enlarge. All photos © W.Kates, 2006.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Lelia Broussard - Milkboy Coffee, Ardmore PA, 4/01/06

Having heard Lelia Broussard's first cd Louisiana Soul (2004) and having sampled some of her newest cd Lil-Yah(2005) on her website, it is obvious that she is a major talent, but nothing quite prepared me for the incredible vocal ability and musical taste that she demonstrated at Milkboy Coffee Saturday night. Many comparisons come to mind; she can sing soulfully like Joss Stone but seems less calculated about it, she can sound jazzy like Patti Andress, her pop and blues bring Bonnie Raitt to mind but Lelia seems somehow even more versatile than all of those. Like Norah Jones, Lelia is able effortlessly blend the many musical influences into a style of her own.

She seems to have a great handle on mixing these varying musical styles into her original compositions and as such, the artist that she most brings to mind is Valerie Carter who also combines soul, jazz, pop, and folk with a distinctly southern sensibility and whose second album Wild Child (1978) is a pop/soul gem that is one of the great overlooked albums of all time.

Lelia's Louisiana birthright (transplanted to Philadelphia) not only shows in the quality of her music but also with a bit of the accent and a lot of warm southern charm that gives her an easy rapport with the audience. This performance was every bit as jaw-droppingly excellent as Nellie McKay's debut at the Point a few years ago. I should mention here that Milkboy Coffee is a worthy successor to The Point, nicely filling the need for a coffeehouse music venue in the Main Line area of the Philadelphia suburbs.

I initially had misgivings over missing several recent full-band shows in favor of this "acoustic" show, but the genius electric guitar accompaniment by Philly session vet Jef Lee Johnson made any other instrumentation unnecessary. Lelia's acoustic guitar work combined with Johnson's electric leads to create some of the best sounding music I've had the pleasure to hear. "That Boy" and "He Makes Me Smile" and "Rise" sounded especially good. Most of the set were originals drawn from Lil-Yah, with a couple of selections from the earlier cd.

In addition to the amazing originals, she did one from Lil-Yah, "Business of Love" which was co-written by center city neighbor and long time Philadelphia tunesmith Phil Roy that sounds like it was written just for her. After the packed coffeehouse called her back for an encore, it didn't seem at all like fake modesty when she said that she had not prepared anything for an encore and then without missing a beat, ripped out an incredible version of Bill Withers' classic "Use Me". Some years ago I had the privilege of hearing Withers sing that song just a few miles down the street (at the old original Main Point) and I'm here to say that Lelia's version improves upon the original. This was totally a knockout performance. Remember to click on each photo to enlarge. All photos © W.Kates, 2006.