Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Women of Substance

Forget about men who sing high, last week I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of women of substance: Beth Orton and Sharon Jones with the Dap Kings. If only I had made it to Martha Wainwright – music nerd-dom trifecta.

Let’s start with Beth Orton.

Anticipation is a big part of a gig experience. I’ve been a fan of Beth Orton for a few albums but this was the first time to see her live with the added bonus of the Palais Theatre as venue. Her latest album Comfort of Strangers is her most engaging, the production stripped back to bring weight to her vocals and warmth to her songs that was perhaps lacking in earlier albums. Previous reports had been glowing so the lead up to the gig has been most enjoyable.
Blessed with fourth row tickets, we had a great view of the stage and the lovely Palais Theatre proscenium. The set list didn’t delve too much into her back catalogue though there was an airing of Sweetest Decline and Someone’s Daughter. These sounded refreshed with more simple arrangements than in recorded versions.
The rest of the set was solid: we heard most of Comfort of Strangers and despite spilling forth unformed thoughts, Beth proved to be unassuming and charming in between. It was a fantastic gig and, as we left, the chilly winter wind snap-froze the crowd’s happy reception.
And she doesn’t take herself too seriously either, we all agreed Best Band Teeshirt prize goes to a black Beth Orton tee emblazoned in a RAWK-Metal/This-Is-Spinal-Tap font.
To a woman of a different kind of substance: Sharon Jones.
Sometimes you hear or see something and you know ya gotta have it. One time we walked past a sign saying “Crepes and Coffee $5” - you hafta have that. When I first heard Sharon Jones on PBS, I had to get my mitts on the album.
The anticipation for this gig induced enthusiastic happy dances galore on my part (to the embarrassment of some…I do enjoy happy dances!). Northerly whispers from the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival indicated that this would be an act not to be missed. We caught SJ&DK for their show stealing support slot for the Black Keys as well as an impulse show six days later. Nothing like word of mouth: folks braved Antarctic conditions to queue out the door and round the corner of the Espy for the experience.
There’s no year marked on their second album Naturally so you could be mistaken for thinking this soul/funk music hails from a previous era of music such is the resonance of their sound. However, judging by the crowd’s reaction, these guys are definitely of the moment.

The Dap Kings were put together for Jones by Bosco Mann of Daptone records and they were an awesome support, tight brass section and rhythm section. However, the undeniable star of the show was Jones herself. She exuded an amazing magnetic presence, strutting and dancing her way across the stage. It made me wish for hips with which to swing - the one other band that makes me feel this way being Royal Crown Revue. Audience members were pulled up on stage to join in on the fun as well (ahem, moreso at the Espy), it really was way too much fun. We felt bad for Black Keys to have to follow up such an infectious exuberant performance.

Three sold-out shows in a week? If you missed out this time, make sure you don’t the next.