Live Shows

Diamanda Gal†s, and John Paul Jones
Gammage Auditorium
December 2, 1994

Three hundred years ago, Diamanda Gal†s would probably have been burned at the stake. Even in these progressive times, she's managed to upset more than a few folks--mainly religious officials--with her own particular brand of "entertainment." And it's easy to see why. The artist has performed AIDS-awareness theatre pieces while drenched in blood, she's crucified her naked self onstage, and criticized the Catholic Church for its treatment of persons infected with HIV.

Yet Gal†s' date here was anything but crimson and crosses. Her latest CD is The Sporting Life, a musical collaboration with Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, and the songs from the album composed the majority of the night's set. Which is not to say that the bewitching Diamanda put on a pleasant evening of tame pop.

Clad in skintight black leather pants and matching bandeau, thick black hair falling to her bare midriff, Gal†s stalked the stage like an S and M version of Morticia Addams. Accompanied only by Jones on bass and lap steel, drummer Denny Fongheiser and her own keyboard playing, the diva-bitch transformed each song into something dark, moving, original, and--at times--annoying. To put it simply, this is a woman who can scream, howl, yap and yell to amazing effect in all three octaves of her range. Gal†s has a voice that can be mesmerizing to an almost religious degree in one song, and redefine the term "shrill" in the next.

Gal†s chose to re-create virtually the entire Sporting Life album, starting at the top and working down in order. A thick, lengthy wash of vaguely Indian chording (which also translates into something vaguely Zeppelinesque) introed the opener, "SkĘtosene," and laid down the vocalist's musical agenda in no uncertain terms. Gal†s stood nearly motionless center stage, vamping on larynx-stretching notes before the "song" kicked into an extremely Zeppelinesque thump, Jones swaying quietly in the background. The rest of the number might as well have been sung in tongues; other than a rapid-fire spoken-word section, "SkĘtosene" could have passed for an exorcism ritual. With one hell of a rhythm section.

Charles Brown's classic blues "Dark End of the Street" was about as far in as anything got all night. Gal†s sat behind the Hammond B3 organ bathed in a thick, stained-glass-yellow spot as she crooned Tina Turner-style, and alternated between mournful, Sunday-go-to-meetin' chords and Jimmy Smith blues licks. Whatever you may think of her vocal m.o., let it be said that Gal†s knows her way around a keyboard.

Each time Jones put down the bass for the lap steel was a highlight, particularly on the 12-bar blues that had Gal†s intoning "I'd rather be dead and in my grave than see another bitch come and suck your dick." Jones' solo played perfectly off the singer's edgy wailing, and when the song (her fourth) was finished, she treated the responsive audience to her first nonmusical communication. In a sarcastic, Monroelike whisper, Gal†s said, "Thank you so much." No, Diamanda is not one of those "Hello, Phoenix!! Y'all wanna rock 'n' roll tonight or what?!"-type performers; she's about as aloof as Wayne Newton is ingratiating.

But Gal†s' musical strengths were also her weaknesses; while her otherworldy vocal gymnastics were generally awesome, there's just so much high-pitched emoting one can take before things start to sound as interesting as a rat-tail file scraping on a tombstone. Other than a brutally honest, spoken poem on AIDS, the artist's singing was full-bore on nearly every number, enough to become wearing.

Doubtless, many in attendance felt rewarded when the second encore turned out to be Led Zep's "Communication Breakdown," and Jones looked to be having a swell time himself. Departing from his gently-moving-from-side-to-side stage moves, the man actually began rocking back and forth. In fact, twice during the song--as Diamanda yelped into aural regions even a castrated Robert Plant couldn't reach--Jones even pursed his lips. Now that's entertainment.--Peter Gilstrap Marshall Crenshaw Duo

The Rockin' Horse
December 7, 1994

"We're professional musicians," Marshall Crenshaw announced as he and sideman Andy York took the stage at the Rockin' Horse last week. The duo proceeded to prove the point over the course of 20 songs ranging from old, familiar faves to very old cover tunes.

Crenshaw, bedecked in modest tee shirt and jeans, was making his second Valley appearance in as many months. He opened the evening with "Someday, Someway," one of his better-known and most spirited songs, and one that didn't make it onto his recently released live retrospective, My Truck Is My Home. As the song's Buddy Hollyesque chords began to ring, a couple of dancers immediately popped up on the far side of the dance floor. But Crenshaw's hook-heavy material kept most of the audience in its seats, attention focused on the stage.

Cover songs by Dave Alvin ("Wanda and Duane") and the late Harry Nilsson ("Don't Forget About Me") followed, with the former hampered slightly by too much reverb in the vocal mix. (Crenshaw's sound man had reportedly just returned from a Green Day tour. It showed.) The slower, quieter Nilsson song, handled beautifully by Crenshaw's croon, did a much better job of surviving the acoustics.

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