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Sunday, January 28

A Perfect Chicago January Night with Patty Griffin and Friends

"Somewhere beyond the bitter end is where I want to be."--Useless Desires

Few artists bring me greater joy than Patty Griffin performing live, an event that could only be made better by the rare opportunity to see her play at a small club like Schuba's, one of my favorite music rooms. To our great glee, the room was not oversold and even though we missed opener Ryan Bingham -- thanks North Pond Cafe -- we still ended up with prime spots next to the sound booth. During the set, the room was lit only with the candles lining the walls and the stage lights. On this chilly Chicago winter night, the mood was set perfectly.

The small crowd brimmed with hardcore Patty fans, and when the cheers went up as she took the stage, I was again reminded that well over half of her audience is female. An always refreshing change to the male-dominated audiences at most indie rock shows.

Her first song was a solo piano version of "Kite," with her typical captivatingly strong vocal performance that immediately claimed the audience for the rest of her set. As the crowd applauded, I turned to my friend John and said, "Take that Norah Jones." To my amusement, WXRT DJ Terri Hemmert was standing on the other side of John and replied, "Amen to that!" Now, I loved Norah's last album as much as the next guy, and more than the 7 million people who bought her first album but skipped it's superior little sister, but Patty can capture the same mood while attacking with a ragged (white) soul edge that Norah either lacks or chooses not to show.

We were treated to many new songs, including the new single "Heavenly Day," that impressed much more live when imbued with the strength of her vocal performance that didn't come through for me in the same way on the MP3. "Stay on the Ride" hit with an unexpectedly funky bridge and a matter of fact delivery that turned into a growl. "Trapeze" is a beautiful down tempo number about an older trapeze performer that she said was from a childhood memory. The highlight among her new songs was not the single, but the Richie Havens-esque acoustic strumming barn burner "No Bad News," that featured Patty on acoustic guitar and the rest of the quartet gleefully on percussion.

Sprinkled in with her brand new songs and stuff from her last two albums were songs from her unreleased gem "Silver Bell," including "Making Pies," "Standing," "Top of the World," the perfect finale on a cold, snowing Chicago Saturday night, "Icicles" and the encore closer "Truth #2," which I don't think I've ever heard her perform live. If only the stars would align for a release of this treasure, which I can only assume remains buried thanks to record label selfishness and ineptitude.

There are some songs sung by some performers, that when I hear them, I always think, "Well, if I get hit by a bus after leaving the show tonight, I will die happy." Some performers and songs mesh so perfectly that they approach transcendence nearly every time -- Megan Reilly's "On a Plane," Alejandro Escovedo's "Five Hearts Breaking," The Handsome Family's "Weightless Again," Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Dallas," Joe Ely playing Butch Hancock's "If You Were a Bluebird," and Patty singing "Useless Desires." During that song last night, though she forgot the lyrics of the first verse and a line near the end, her version left me close enough to speechless that all I could vocalize was "Wow." After she stopped to try to remember the lyrics and started back up again from the top, the crowd sang along so loudly that they filled in where Patty couldn't. And somehow through all that, or maybe because of it, she managed to pull off a version of one of her best songs so heartfelt that it took my breath away.

Her music and performances frequently speak to the most non-white part of me. I appreciate and love soul, jazz, blues and R'n'B, but am admittedly hamstrung by my Irish heritage. I am white through and through. Surprisingly for a white girl from New England singing country-tinged songs, Patty's music draws on the wellspring of gospel and soul that is channeled through her singular voice -- a voice that captures that non-white musical lineage and turns it loose. She approaches the barrier of my Whiteness from the inside and threatens to burst outward through the wall Miles, Clinton, Coltrane, Sly, Marley and even Hendrix have been unable to breach from the outside after thirty years of trying.

After the show, Julia said that Patty performs with the perfect combination of the hard and the soft. I agree and would add that she is just as masterful at melding the rough with the smooth. And it is that consciousness and mastery of dynamic range, timbre and her stylistic palette that make her such a unique combination of performer, musician and songwriter.

Patty talked about the huge ice storm that hit Austin a few weeks ago and how her band was supposed to have gathered there to spend a week rehearsing for this tour. While she loved the break from routine that the storm gave her, she pointed out that their week of rehearsals had been cut to only two days. If Patty and band were as close to transcendence as they were on Saturday night after only two days of practice with their new bass player (and cellist!), I can't wait to see them after two months of touring when they return at the end of March as promised. Even so, I'm not sure they'll be able to top this Chicago Saturday night.

--The lazy prose of this post is dedicated to Tiger Adams who died on this day one year ago.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that.......Patty is pure genius.....hoping I don't die before Feb. 6....lol!


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