For this I missed "Charlie Brown Christmas"?
Songstress Madeleine Peyroux (pronounced "Peru") was in town for a show last night. The Mrs. and I went, not knowing in advance hardly anything about her music. What we experienced was more interesting than it was entertaining.
Peyroux's concert revealed her fine voice and great taste in music, but the two were encased in a crust of hipness that was so thick as to be impenetrable. Every number she performed -- from her own brooding compositions, to Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," to jazz standards -- was performed in an extreme Billie Holiday imitation. Every line was delivered off-tempo; every note was tortured, bending and swooping; and nearly every phrase ended with an intentionally discordant shading. After a while, I thought to myself, "You ain't Lady Day, honey. Why not cut the cr*p and just sing the songs?"
Peyroux was accompanied by a jazz quartet that was playing, but not necessarily with her and occasionally not with each other, either. Although we don't get around much any more, I suspect there's better work on display at Jimmy Mak's most nights of the week.
The chanteuse was not without a coterie of adoring fans, however, and her rapport with them is clearly in the manner of the detached, modern diva. Her stage banter was as scattered and ironic as her delivery of a melody. Peyroux marvelled at how many people had turned out for the show, when everyone in the room knew it had been moved from the Schnitzer, without official explanataion but most likely because not enough tickets had been sold. Speaking of which, as expected, there were quite a few unhappy custoners who had indeed gone to the Schnitz in error; by the time they unparked their cars downtown and got to the Aladdin, they had to sit by the men's room door. No mention of any of that from the stage. The obvious program is to accept Peyroux with all her quirks or leave.
Which we did, just as the band finished beating up Frank Loesser and Burton Lane's "I Hear Music." It was 10 after 10 at that point, two hours and 40 minutes after we had arrived at the Aladdin, but only 60 minutes into Peyroux's set. Before the headliner had hit the stage, the crowd got to spend 40 fairly empty minutes with Suzie Soo (my apologies, that's probably not how it's spelled), a solo singer-songwriter out of L.A. Soo is a capable guitarist, but the songs she has written all sound the same, and her better moments are covering Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and Buddy Johnson's "Since I Fell for You." When she speaks, Soo sounds like just a normal, bright young American woman, but her singing voice is a croak that conjures up Toni Childs with a Chinese accent. It was another acquired taste that we haven't acquired.
Do I wish we had our 80 bucks back? I guess not. It was a learning experience. But if I had known this was going to be someone straining half the night to channel Billie Holiday, I might have changed the channel. Peyroux is often said to be a big star in the making. If she somehow falls into the hands of capable, authoritarian handlers who kick her butt and get her to shape up what she's doing into something coherent and accessible, it's possible. But based on last night, I wouldn't bet on it.