Friday, March 17, 2006

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got or Marcia Ball Gets Pwned

Nobody knows who Bettye LaVette is, but everyone should. A soul singer who slipped through the cracks in terms of recognition (and commercial success), her voice seems to share DNA with both Nina Simone and Tina Turner, equally capable of hitting powerful raspy highs and digging down to soulful lows. Last year Anti Records (a division of the punk label Epitaph, and home to Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Neko Case) hooked up with LaVette and they came up with a Joe Henry produced album of covers of songs written by women (including Dolly Parton, Fiona Apple, and Aimee Mann). The same general idea worked really well with Solomon Burke's Don't Give Up on Me, but it might work even better for LaVette.

Tara bought tickets for her concert at BB Kings in Times Square as a Valentine's Day present. This is what Tara said: "I got you Bettye LaVette tickets." I looked at the tickets, and sure enough, they said Bettye LaVette. Through some kind of aphasia, Tara and I didn't notice that LaVette was the opening act, and someone named Marcia Cross was the headliner. Upon arriving at BB King's we realized our bit of blindspottedness, and settled in at our table wondering about the headliner. "We'll see," we figured, "if she's the headliner, maybe she's even better?"

While I want to like BB King's I continue to be annoyed by it. The place seems more interested in selling booze and food than hosting musicians, and the waitstaff routinely shouts over the music to tell patrons about this week's martini special (An aside: I am sick of drinks served in martini glasses that have nothing to do with martinis. Whatever.). The rudeness of the waiters and waitresses bleeds into the audience, and chitchat is the norm rather than the exception. As a veteran "look-giver" and "shusher" this drives me fucking crazy.

Bettye LaVette came out and tore the place up. The songs I was familiar with blew me away in person, the songs I didn't know made me upset that I'd never heard them before. Watching her, I got the feeling that hard work was never so much fun...or maybe that having fun was never so much work - one of them, anyway. "This song is from the award-winning album," she said at one point. "It feels nice to say that. Award-winning. Lord knows I've never won anything else in my life." Self-deprecating humor without pity is deeply winning, and when it's wrapped up in an act that is both raw and totally professional, it's just about undeniable. By the end of her set, the (usually talky) audience was uniformly quiet. As her second to last song wound down, the band stepped offstage one by one, leaving her to finish it alone. She then went into her final song, "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got," and sang the whole thing a capella. The audience was damn-near reverent, my eyes welled up in spite of myself, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. Damn. She exited to raucous applause. Congratulations, Bettye, you deserved it (and more). Oh, by the way, I'm in love with you.

And then Marcia Ball came out. Like I said: I had no real idea who she was, so you can chalk my reaction up to ignorance if you want, but, well I hated her. She played boring, uptight, white people boogie-woogie. She played the keyboard with her legs crossed. I don't why this drove me crazy, but it did. The phrase "ladies ride side saddle" popped into my head and I imagined some bluenose piano teacher instructing her: "Whores play with their knees apart. Keep 'em together, Marcia." Shudder. How little did I enjoy it? She played a song about the destruction of a neighborhood in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and I couldn't focus on it. Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" makes me want to weep openly whenever I hear it - and I fucking hate Randy Newman. Marcia Ball, live, right in front of me, could only evoke an apathetic, "Meh."

[You can listen to some clips of Bettye LaVette's work here, and you can read a Daily News article on her here at Anti's website. Read until the final line. It's awesome.]

1 comment:

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