Friday, April 14, 2017

Livingston Taylor - The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA, 4/01/2017; Taylor is a Total Charmer as He Celebrates His Fifty Year Career

After Susan Werner and an intermission, it was time for Livingston Taylor. Taylor's set was either a delightful batch of songs performed in celebration of his now fifty year career, or his set may have been a master class in the popular song, giving the crowd a taste of what it might be like taking one of his courses at Berklee College of Music in Boston. In actuality, Taylor's set was a little of both.

A little more than half of his selections were originals, and although he didn't draw many songs from his early days, Taylor's compositions showcased his finely tuned sense of melody with all the lyrical humor and poignancy that his fans have come to expect.

After leading off with "Blame It On Me", Taylor got right to it, talking about Jerome Kern (1885-1945). "He was the grandmaster of the popular song. All he wanted to be was a pop writer, and boy was he ever. He had so much grace and so much dignity that all the young pops that came after him, Richard Rogers, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, they looked at Jerome Kern and said, 'Well if he wants to be a pop writer, so do I', and boy weren't they too."

With that he sang the delightful "Pick Yourself Up", which the more you hear it, the more you realize that it is a perfect pop song. As a standard, it's been done by most of the major pop singers over the years; I've always been partial to the Nat King Cole version. During the set, Taylor came back to this subject a number of times.

Some of the other pop standards in Taylor's set came from the movies, "Never Never Land" from Peter Pan, "It Might As Well Be Spring" from State Fair, and "Merry Old Land Of Oz" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" both from The Wizard of Oz. Singer-songwriter Susan Werner, who performed earlier, came back out to join Taylor on "It Might As Well Be Spring" contributing vocals and piano. For the final encore song Taylor sang the medley from The Wizard of Oz and Werner added guitar.

There was so much humor in this set it was the kind of concert that keeps you smiling. Taylor's "Olympic Guitar" never gets old and the same can be said for "Railroad Bill", which had the crowd howling with laughter. There were also plenty of favorites from Taylor's records such as "Life is Good", "Pajamas", and "City Lights".

During the introduction to "I Must Be Doing Something Right", Taylor talked about the joy he gets from teaching, then he brought out singer-songriter, musician, and arranger Matt Cusson. Cusson played piano for the rest of Taylor's set, adding his vocals to "City Lights". He returned to the stage during the encore for a rousing version of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely". Cusson did the lead vocals and if you weren't looking at the stage, you might have thought that Stevie himself had dropped by to sing. Cusson is highly regarded as an artist and collaborator. He released his self-tittled debut album in 2009.

Livingston Taylor has achieved a body of work in his fifty year career with the excellence of both his songwriting and his cover choices. In any given concert, he can only scratch the surface. Earlier when Taylor was describing Jerome Kern he used the terms grace and dignity, I think that these terms apply equally well to Livingston Taylor. I can say without reservation, after having seen Taylor any number of times, that in performance he is always nothing less than charming.

Many thanks to the Colonial Theater for the sound and lights. Thanks to Beverly Kates for camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production.

Watch "Pick Yourself Up"

Setlist: Click linked song titles to watch
01. Blame It On Me
02. Pick Yourself Up (Jerome Kern)
03. There I'll Be
04. Never Never Land (Peter Pan)
05. Everybody's Just Like Me
06. I'm Writing A Book
07. Never Lose Hope
08. Olympic Guitar
09. Pajamas
10. Railroad Bill (Andy Breckman)
11. I Must Be Doing Something Right w/ MC
12. Penny Lane (Beatles) w/ MC
13. City Lights w/ MC
14. Life is Good w/ MC
15. It Might As Well Be Spring (State Fair) w/ SW
16. Isn't She Lovely (Stevie Wonder)
17. Would You Mind w/ SW & MC
18. Merry Old Land Of Oz (Wizard of Oz)
19. Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Wizard of Oz) w/ SW & MC

Livingston Taylor's Website
Livingston Taylor's Facebook
Livingston Taylor's Twitter
Livingston Taylor's Instagram

Matt Cusson's Website
Matt Cusson's Facebook
Matt Cusson's Twitter
Matt Cusson's Instagram

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Susan Werner - The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville, PA, 4/01/2017; A Superb Set of Decidedly Necessary Songs

The Colonial Theater crowd was the beneficiary Saturday night April 1st as Point Entertainment booked a pair of headliners to perform, Livingston Taylor and Susan Werner.

Susan Werner did the opening set, even though she's been headlining her own shows for many years. I've been to her shows a number of times, but as she played this time it occurred to me that I had somehow forgotten just how good she is. At the outset, Livingston Taylor came out and introduced her with tons of praise.

Werner started strong with "Kicking the Beehive," the lead track from the album of the same name (2010). She followed with "The Last of the Good, Straight Girls", which led into "I Can't Be New", all three seeming like signature songs, in a way.

One of the things I like best about Werner is the way that she unapologetically writes her views into her material, no matter whether the topic is political, religious, or social. Her next two songs opened a few eyes (and ears), the first one coming from an album called Eight Unnecessary Songs. "Just what you don’t need! Eight little tunes on topics ranging from cosmetic surgery to the extraordinary properties of cheap beer to global warming. At turns facile, petty and uncharitable, these songs offer a kind of comfort to those of us falling wayyy short of Mother Teresa out here." Watch Susan perform "Dog" and you'll see what I mean. Although "Herbicides" comes from her latest album Hayseed, she introduced it saying something about it also being unnecessary. I thought about quoting some lyrics here, but just watch the video.

After "Red Dress" her set got even more topical starting with a track from her The Gospel Truth album, one that she considers “agnostic gospel”. From that album she drew "(Why Is Your) Heaven So Small", a song that hits the nail on the head in so many ways. While she sang it, I kept thinking that the song could not be more relevant now. Then I realized that I thought the exact same thing when she first released that album in 2007, which may be the last time I'd seen her. But then that's the beauty of songwriting like this, it's timeless.

Her set culminated in another true Werner gem, "My Strange Nation". Based on recent events, she has updated the song with a new verse about Donald Trump. See video below.

There was a lot of love in the Colonial Theater for Werner. She stuck around and came back out to sing a couple of tunes with Livingston Taylor at the end of his set. If you haven't seen Susan Werner, or haven't seen her lately, I heartily recommend going to her website and catching up with her.

Many thanks to the Colonial Theater for the sound and lights. Thanks to Beverly Kates for camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production.

Bonus video: Werner posted her 2017 version of "My Strange Nation".

Susan Werner's Website
Susan Werner's Facebook
Susan Werner's Twitter