My hip, Hemingway-reading great-grandfather Pop White (a shrewd farmer who vaunted his success by buying a new car every year of the Depression), and, we suspect, his son my uptight grandfather (nicknamed "The Sponge" for his genius at freeloading) saw burlesque shows at the Trocadero Theater in Philadelphia; my father and I see concerts there now, making me the fourth generation of my family to attend this establishment. The Troc was the venue for the best concert I saw in 2011, the Civil Wars: the sound was perfect, and, strangely, when the audience sang along (the house was full of fans) they sounded great. Not usually the case with singing fans at shows. The highlight of the evening was the Wars' shivery cover of Billie Jean. This was a great night at my favorite venue, thank you Civil Wars, singing fans, and my camerado, whose idea it was to go.
After the Civil Wars I might put Lucinda Williams and Teddy Thompson at a tie. Lucinda Williams is a favorite of my Dad's; he's seen her 12 times. This year was my 2nd. Although Williams is a song-writing goddess and sings like a barfly sibyl uttering uncanny prophecies just as she's slipping off her barstool, she doesn't get under my skin like she gets under my Dad's. I think she's his ideal woman, and who could blame him? Her concert was stunning--she roved through every outpost of human experience, and did two of my favorite of her songs: Honeybee and Unsuffer Me--the latter the most powerful rendition of a song I've seen since Annie Lennox did Cold with such unnerving candor she caused an audience to spontaneously rise to its feet.
Lucinda Williams also covered Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth, showing great taste, and dedicated it to Occupy, also showing excellent taste. My Dad, my Dad's girlfriend, and my camerado and I all dug this show immensely.
Teddy Thompson opened for KD Lang; he's such a great singer and song-writer but seems to be holding back. With that voice and his song-writing skills he could take over the world with a single power-ballad, and be another Adele. But his aesthetic is one of restraint. At one point Teddy Thompson let out an incredibly long, full-throated note that made the audience gasp. It was unique in his set. He was an interesting contrast to KD Lang, who followed him, and showed off her exquisite bellowing till I was numbed to it. She has a glorious voice. The audience lost their minds when KD Lang started doing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah,but I wasn't persuaded that the world needs another version of this song. Still, I like it that she performed this weird song, about religious and sexual and other forms of rapture--with its icy sadomasochistic currents--for the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics: That was an admirably perverse choice. KD Lang's new song I Confess is great, very funny and sexy, and we liked her band, and the audience was the queerest I've ever been in. A fun night out at the magnificent Kimmel Center, with my camerado, who also suggested this one.
Again with my Dad, it was a thrill to see Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the dazed hippie genius of country music, at World Cafe. I had seen him before, performing in a park with his son. This time the audience was dead, checked-out except for one young hippie who stood up front doing annoying interpretive dances to each song, entranced by his own acid trails. Jimmie Dale and his band, the Wronglers, must have a strange impression of Philadelphia audiences. I love Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and was excited to buy a poster and get his autograph. His version of In the Pines, on the "Heirloom Music" album, may be my favorite version of this song, which is my Amazing Grace.
Back to the Trocadero, my biggest concert disappointment of 2011 was Peter Murphy with She Wants Revenge. I'm not blaming Peter Murphy: he was fantastic, Liza Minnelli couldn't have had more vitality. I think of Peter Murphy as a cool, aloof type, but he put on a show. I've always liked him, but when I saw how game he was to go all out for his fans, I loved him. Murphy did Marlene Dietrich's Favorite Poem--I hoped he might! and an acoustic Bela Lugosi's Dead, something you wait your whole life for. (Next time, I hope, Crystal Wrists). But the sound at the Troc was terrible; we were closest to the stage in the first balcony--and the Troc is small--but Peter Murphy sounded like he was at the bottom of a swimming pool; I couldn't make out a word. It was a long night. The openers, She Wants Revenge, were mesmerizing the first time I saw them (at the TLA), but they seemed subdued at the Troc, tired or disappointed--keeping their coats on like folks who stop by your house but really can't stay. Coupled with the bad sound, this made for a weak show. However, based on how great they were the first time I saw them, I would see She Wants Revenge again.
I also saw Joan Baez, who is very cool, though perhaps not cool enough to drive all the way to Glenside for. I went mainly to hang out with my Dad. But Joan Baez told a memorable story that made the trip worth it: about being a very young woman sent to wake Martin Luther King with a song (he was due for a speaking engagement). She's an excellent mimic, and very funny; her imitation of a drowsy MLK was so spot-on, it was like being there with her; time vanished.
Prufrock measured his life out with coffee spoons; I guess I'm measuring mine with theater and concerts. In January I get that feeling of a kid up way past his bedtime--excited, a little frightened, awestruck. I'm perched on a hill, on a heaped-up mass of time, at the old year's midnight. Winter and autumn slope away behind me, the remaining winter and spring slope into darkness ahead of me. In this mood I write my posts about the best live performances from the year that's ended, which is how I learn what I really thought of them.
I'll go with thee to the lane's end... I am a kind of burr, I shall stick. Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
I write not to teach but to learn. Rebecca West
- "Always Forever Now," Ideomancer volume 13, issue 2
- "Black Sun," Black Static # 32
- "Bread or Cake" and "Pride/Shame,"2nd Annual Philadelphia One-Minute Play Festival
- "Copper Heart," Polluto Magazine issue 5, A Steampunk Orange
- "The Accomplished Birder's Guide to Overcoming Rejection," Last Drink Bird Head, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
- "Another Night With the Henriksens," Player's Theater Halloween One-Act Festival NYC 2008
- "Hating the Lovers," and "Pipe Down!" Geez Magazine: Thirty Sermons You Would Never Hear in Church
- "Beth/slash/Nathan," Paper Fruit Blogiversary Contest
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