Friday, July 30, 2010

Joan Armatrading

We saw her last night at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. Holy coyote; she was amazingly great.

K was a fan from ages ago and introduced me to her music in 1996. I didn't love her then. I liked her music, but didn't like what she did with her voice.

As we were waiting for the show to start last night, we admitted to each other that we weren't very excited to see her. K was expecting her to have aged way past her prime and I was expecting to hear that voice-thing that I dislike. (I don't know if there's a word for it; it's that Anita-Baker swallowed-sound, cat-yowling thing.)

The Cedar is simultaneously a miserable and fabulous place to hear music. The sound system is outstanding. Tickets are general admission and it's not the kind of crowd that shows up hours in advance, so you can always count on getting a really close seat if it matters to you. It's a short bike ride from our house.

The physical environment at the Cedar is wanting, though. They pack waaaaay too many tiny folding chairs into a small space with too few exits. It's an effort to keep my claustrophobic panic at bay. Beer is necessary to take the vividness out of my imaginings of dying in a fire under the feet of a crowd futilely trying to get to the exits while tripping over downed folding chairs. You just know the electrical system is not sufficiently updated. Do we have no fire code in this city? To top it off, there's no discernible ventilation and tap beer is $5.50.

When Joan came on stage, she first thanked us for leaving our television sets behind for the evening. That seemed unnecessarily condescending and obnoxious. We're sweating, we're squashed in here like sardines, and now we're being insulted.

But then she started playing and blew us away. Her voice has aged like fine wine. Powerful, clear, soulful, interesting, expressive, perfectly on pitch, with zero Anita-Baker yowling. Her vocal prime is now. Her guitar-playing was even more impressive. And with a catalog of three decades to pick from, she had no trouble filling a solid two hours with nothing but great songs.

If you get a chance to see her during her current tour, you just have to do it. (Doesn't look like she's got any Texas stops on her schedule yet, but maybe they're yet to come.)

Update (moments later): One of Joan's old songs is Weakness in Me (1982), with lyrics that describe the pull of an affair. If you listen to her singing it as a much younger woman, it's fine. But her delivery of this today -- standing still on stage, no guitar, no microphone in her hand or stand in front of her, with enough years of maturity to sell the sentiments of the song -- was stunning. It's sort of like Ralph Stanley singing O Death or Johnny Cash singing Hurt; advancing age is a trememdous asset to the song.

Updated again (one more moment later): Video is worth a thousand words:


Supraluxe said...

That's great that she's still making music. I'm sure most people think she dropped off the face of the earth after Drop the Pilot.

Stephanie said...

She performed Drop the Pilot at the Cedar, btw.

Supraluxe said...

Since we're on the topic, I just realized my Joan Armatrading collection consists only of Me Myself and I, Walk Under Ladders, and The Key. Time to beef that up a little.