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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hallelujah in the city

Long-time readers of this blog may recall that I have a "thing" for the popular singer Joan Osborne. The other night, the Mrs. and I caught Osborne live in concert at the Aladdin Theater here in town, and let me tell you: That "thing" is now bigger than ever.

This is one of those talents that's so magnificent, it's hard to describe. Who's the best female singer you ever heard belt out a song in concert? I'd have a hard time putting any voice ahead of Osborne. Ronstadt? Raitt? No way. Next to Joan they're positively vulnerable. Maybe Aretha in her prime -- maybe. I caught Ella once, late on, '78 -- she was something, even then. Janis would be in the same category, no doubt. But you can count still-active performers in this class on one hand. k.d. lang against Obsorne would probably make a good battle of the bands, but when they cranked up that hot last stanza, I'd be betting on Osborne.

And Joan's ear for good songs and musical settings! She stole the show in the Funk Brothers movie, she's fronted for what's left of the Dead, she's done the Grand Ole Opry thing -- her list of conquests gets longer by the year. And no wonder. The 90-minute Portland set showed her at the absolute top of her game. A voice as clear and pure and soulful as you're ever going to hear, and behind it a perfect sense of how to handle a lyric. Sinatra and Tony Bennett would be proud.

So why is she playing to 600 people in a venue like the Aladdin for a couple of thousand bucks at most, when she should be drawing Springsteen-sized crowds and raking in the millions? Beats me, people. Go figure. I'm just so glad she, and we, were there.

Now, I must confess that I came into the show pumped up to hear the '60s soul covers that made up most of Osborne's last two albums. And guess what -- she didn't do any of them. Most of the set was taken up by her new release, Little Wild One, which hearkens back to her earlier rock stuff, like the radio hit "One of Us," which she also sang (You know, "What if God was...?"). So was I disappointed? As it turns out, not in the least. The new album is darn good, and maybe it was just as well that I wasn't singing along in my head -- I got to concentrate on what she was doing.

She did pull a couple of chestnuts out of the soul albums -- the title song from "Breakfast in Bed" and the Dave Mason romp "Only You Know and I Know." The Dead's "Brokedown Palace" was also a sweet touch. But you know what? She could have been singing the Mattress World jingle, and it would have been great. That voice is an instrument that some day belongs in the Smithsonian -- kind of like Lou Rawls's (God rest him).

Joan, Joan, what more can we say? You are a treasure. We were all so lucky to have you on our warm little Portland stage. (And while we're at it, is the Aladdin a great venue, or what?)

One other item of note was the opening act, a singer-songwriter kid named Matt Morris. We expected exactly nothing from him, and we got a ton! Beautiful songs, great stage presence, the fire of a young solo performer -- whoa! Flashback to solo Bruce 1972. Who knows where it will lead? But this guy sure seems to be going places.

It was easy to see how Morris would wind up on a bill with Osborne -- he has a voice that can take a song to a much higher level in a big hurry. His originals soared, and when he actually pulled off John Lennon's "Help!" as a plaintive piano ballad, you knew he really had something going. The crowd ate out of his hand. Osborne brought him up later for a duet of her new song "Cathedrals," and it brought the audience to its feet. The vocals were stunning, and if I am not mistaken, in mid-song they switched from Morris low/Osborne high to vice versa. Impressive.

As you can tell, I'm a delirious fan, and from where I sat, there was simply too much going on in this show for a detached, coherent review. If you are reading this post and Osborne is about to come to your town, you positively need to drop everything and go -- it's that simple.

Comments (19)

Who's the best female singer you ever heard belt out a song in concert?

Anita O'Day, scat singing with the band at the Half-Note in lower Manhattan, but I was an impressionable 18 and it was my first live jazz show, so the memories may not jive with the reality. The fact we drove her back to her apartment at 4am probably adds to the memory.

Anne and I saw Lydia Pence and Cold Blood at the Aladdin a few weeks ago (for the second time) and though she's aging, (unlike Janis Joplin) Anne says she's still an East Bay version of Joplin (with a little Tower of Power for backup.) For me, Gracie Slick at the old Fillmore East still resonates.

At least we have the Aladdin, where we took the whole gang to see Joan Baez a few years back (and we were too slow to get Randy Newman tickets, who's coming to town). It's a treasure spun from an old porno theatre that had been showing Deep Throat forever.

Then there was Yoko Ono that time...(no, no, just kidding!)

Gracie Slick? Say Goodnight, Gracie. (And if you get that reference you're getting as old and senile as me.)

Grace Slick. And the Jefferson Airplane (before all that Starship crap) opened the show with a clip from King Kong as the planes are circling Kong, gunning him down...

...and how can I forget to mention Portland's own Django's Cadillac, who just did a repeat gig at the Cowgirl Ball? Cat's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" will bring you to tears.

Sorry to go on, but you did ask.

Jack, I would agree with you. I've seen Joan a few times- once in Telluride at a blues festival, a few post Jerry Dead shows, and a 2003 New Year's Eve show when she sang with the Funk Brothers who were opening for the Dead, with whom she also performed with. Absolutely awesome, amazing range, and she can jump from one genre to another without any hesitation. The "One of us" song really doesn't do her justice.

I saw a Joan Osbourne show here in 1995--Good Stuff!!

"Goodnight, Gracie."

How much prose could a pamphleteer parse when a pamphleteer parses some prose. Just sayin', Jack, besides Shift Lock and Num Lock, your keyboard must have a High(mind) Lock key. Which is to say you sound stoned on glory glow, 'gixxed' or 'gicksed' I've heard it said; whatever the "thing" is be, your writing tenor really uploads that thing-tone.

Art fixes more minds better than school.

I think Osbourne is great. But the best female singer I've ever heard live was hands down Alson Krauss. Angelic.

How about that encore of Roy Orbison's "When the Blue Hour Comes?" My toes were curling.

I'm really angry at myself.

Like you, I'm a huge Joan fan.
I *knew* Joan was coming to town.
I'd seen her at least three times before (once in NYC 17+ years ago, twice here in PDX), so *knew* it was a don't-miss event.

But I ended up at a 'don't-miss' PTA meeting instead that left me pissy and irritated.

Unfortunately her tour takes her away from the left coast. Oh well, will catch her new release and hope for her return.

Most will never forgive her for the utterly lame and downright horrible "One of Us" or whatever that piece of shit was called. Unfortunate, because she does have a good voice. Oh well.

Best female singer I've seen live is Neko Case. She's like, well, I dunno, I always say she's a cross between Patsy Cline and Aretha.

Here's a video of her doing an Aretha song live:

Another one of her live in Central Park:

She's criminally underrated/unappreciated.

Most will never forgive her

Most who?

That was a cloying little number, but it got her noticed. And she's since proved to anyone who will actually listen that she's much more than that.

I assume you liked "Love Me Do." Or did you miss the rest of those guys' career, too?

Joan is the most enthralling performer I have ever had the pleasure of seeing in concert. A force of nature. Not enough hyperbole in the world to convey how great she is, and how much I admire her.

maybe not as multi-dimensional as Joan however - Lydia Pense deserves a mention here. She was absolutely captivating in the early 70's w/Cold Blood as the house band at Frenchy's in Hayward, CA. Part of that East Bay Grease scene. Hearing I'm a Good Woman or Make Love can still give me shivers.

Lydia Pense deserves a mention here. She was absolutely captivating in the early 70's w/Cold Blood...

Uh....see comment #1? :-) She still rocks!

I love great chanteuses. Today I was playing both Nina Simone and Lydia Pense. They both did "I wish I knew how it feels to be free." I recommend both. In fact, I recommend every track on the original "Cold Blood" album -- the above, and "you got me humming" "I just want to make love to you" "I'm a good woman" and more.

You East Coast boys never heard her in her prime -- but I did. And, when I saw she was playing at the Aladin I hauled Frank there -- but he did not go willingly. He had no clue who she was. One show and he was a convert. Though she took decades off to raise her kids, and though her voice has aged (haven't we all?) she still rocks and can belt out a tune no fear of all those horns behind her!

And, if you love a great woman's strong, sultry voice -- check out our own local Django's Cadilac -- you can find their music on itunes and I suggest you listen to "Lulaby of the Leaves" "Peel Me a Grape" and, as Frank said "Somewhere over the Rainbow." Serious great lift your voice and sing it music.

You East Coast boys never heard her in her prime -- but I did.

Ah, down in the Bay Area in 1975 or '76, I did indeed catch her in pretty fine form -- you know where it's at, it's down to the bone.

Man, I have to pay attention to the A&E--I didn't even realize she was coming to town. Sigh.

I can't name a single singer at the top, but those sharing room at the summit include two Joans, Osborne and Baez, and the late, lamented Betty Carter. One of the benefits of my time in Boston was seeing her perform on a regular basis, though it's tough to top the first time I saw her, at the first Mt. Hood Jazz Festival with a lightning storm as the backdrop.


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