Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Been this way too long to change now!

The first thing that happened at last night's Bettye LaVette concert was that we were seated next to an incredibly obnoxious guy, one table over, talking very loudly into his cell phone while his date sat cooling his heels. After a minute or two of this, Michelle got up and walked off. She returned with the manager, who politely offered to move us to a nicer table, two rows from the stage.

"She can be very persuasive," the manager said to me. Yeah, tell me about it.

Good move, though. Out of earshot of the jerk, we had an excellent up-close view when the (almost all-white) band came on: a fedora-wearing pianist and keyboardist who seemed steeped in New Orleans music; a young virtuosic guitarist who seemed to be going for a Dave Matthews look and a Mark Knopfler sound; a huge guy, who reminded us a little of Hurley on "Lost," playing bass; and a dreadlocked cat on drums who was probably older than he looked. They all rocked. From what I've read they're a new touring group with LaVette, but they were as tight as her shiny black slacks and they seemed to enjoy the gig.

Bettye got a huge hand when she took the stage. At 62 she looks great -- she can't weigh much more than a hundred pounds -- and she was stylish and playful. She looked like fun.

In fact, I thought almost immediately of something I recently read or heard about her. She said in an interview that her grandson and his friends thought she looked "hot" in her publicity photos, and she talked about what a huge kick she got out of that. Watching her moves onstage, I thought maybe the kids' talk had gone to her head. Yeah, we should all be so vibrant at 62, but I thought she was working it pretty hard. It's OK to leave a little to our imagination, grandma.

She can sing though. Her voice in person was as strong and affecting as I find it on her recordings, and she and the band weren't afraid of vamping and ad-libbing -- the concert was much more than a live performance of the CD.

She also seemed loose and self-deprecating with the audience. She said it was wonderful to be back at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley after a long time away and pointed out a bald dude in the front. "Without him and his friends," she said, "we wouldn't have had the seven people we had here last time."

As advertised, LaVette puts a lot of emotion into her performances. Too much, almost. A little cry in your voice can go a long way over two hours; there were times I thought she just about tilted into having some voice in her cry. Still, the apparent closing number, "Heaven" -- the tune I posted yesterday as a YouTube clip -- worked very well, and it led to an encore of "Before the Money Came," which I also quoted in yesterday's post.

That seemed like the perfect close to the show, which we enjoyed with a pair of excellent dinners -- steak for Michelle and salmon for me. But then Bettye sang two more songs; fine, but just beyond the emotional high of the evening.

On the way back to the car we agreed we both liked the concert, but Michelle said it's too bad LaVette felt the need to work everything so hard. We speculated that maybe it's a residual effect of struggling for 40 years to find an audience.

This afternoon, replaying her record and thinking about the show, I thought the tune "I Still Want to Be Your Baby" had a pretty apt line:

"I've been this way too long to change now. You're gonna have to take me as I am."


Tonight, we're off to see kd lang at the Moore Theater. I'll admit I'm not as thrilled about this one. I like some of lang's music, but her new album, "Watershed," bores me. You never know though. We'll see; report to come.


freda said...

you guys really live the good life, I can't wait till I am finished with all the work on the house and the condo so that I can have fun too. of course I do have fun playing tennis, I played this morning and it was great, but now, back to work.

Rita said...

Glad to read your concert critique, since it almost came close to how I felt after watching her video that you posted.

I'm anxious to hear what you have to say about K.D. Even though her latest CD isn't her greatest, my bet is that she'll give a great performnce.

Mark said...

Freda, Bettye is playing at JazzFest if you want to catch her. I'm pretty sure she's there on Thursday, May 1, which is the day we expect to get into town (so not in time to catch any shows that day).