LIVE SHOTS

The Nilsson number gave way to "another song by a dead guy," as Crenshaw put it, which turned out to be "Julie," an up-tempo Bobby Fuller tune. It was about this time in the show that York's presence, specifically on background vocals, took hold, providing a strong, nonintrusive complement to Crenshaw. He spent the entire evening at Crenshaw's side, adding wonderful vocal harmonies and doing a solid job with myriad guitars and basses. York's greasy hair and startled-looking, Bob Weir eyes added a visual touch, as well.

The show hit its stride with two of Crenshaw's better songs, "Vague Memory" and "Better Back Off," both of which highlighted Crenshaw's gift for writing huge melodies and singing them with smooth, sugar-sweet tones. York's ability to sing even higher than Crenshaw--no small feat--proved a plus on both songs, as well as with "Cynical Girl," an older Crenshaw song that got an especially strong reaction from the audience.

Indeed, Crenshaw's ingratiating vibe and the show's lack of inane stage chatter kept the ample crowd from drifting. Crenshaw and York were eventually brought back for two encores, the first highlighted by a cover of the Byrds' "Don't Turn Back." There was also a curious rendition of "Viva Las Vegas," with the music-savvy Crenshaw substituting "Nash-vegas" in the chorus. For the second encore, Crenshaw announced his intentions to close the show by playing some "blues the way they do it in the Northern Hemisphere." He and York then lit into ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing You."

It put a perfect cap to a night of knowing Marshall Crenshaw.--Ted Simons

Everything But the Girl
Valley Art Theatre
December 3, 1994

Leave it to this innovative English duo to find the perfect concert venue for its intimate, introspective brand of jazz/folk pop. A moviehouse setting suited the sold-out crowd, which was not altogether different from the late-20s to mid-40s audiences that might turn out for a Lina Wertmuller film. However, those concertgoers, used to things happening in "rock 'n' roll time" (read: late), may have been surprised to find this special Everything But the Girl showing already under way at 8:25, as if it were just another Saturday night at the movies.

Without an opening act, coming attractions or instructions not to talk during the feature presentation, Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn took the stage to thunderous applause. Thorn strummed a Stratocaster for a good half of the set, but otherwise Watt's acoustic 12-string and the pair's soaring, rich voices were the only accompaniment (I know what you're thinking, but please, please, everyone--let's all make it our New Year's resolution never to use that "unplugged" word again). This stripped-down, everything-but-the-rhythm-section approach actually added something to the band's overall sound: more naked, raw emotion.

After witnessing the live versions of songs like "Walking to You," "25th December" and especially "Get Me" (all from the recent Amplified Heart album), the recorded takes seem downright flat. On the album incarnation of that last tune, Thorn sounds as if she's merely yearning for understanding. Onstage, she literally spat out the "Do you really get me?" refrain, as if she expected never to be gotten.

Something else you don't "get" much of on Everything But the Girl recordings--but was in rich abundance live--was Watt's and Thorn's self-deprecating humor. Over most of its recorded work, EBTG sustains a mood of solitude and quiet self-reflection. Live, the duo brought you into the rainy-afternoon mood of "Oxford Street" or "Talk to Me Like the Sea," but then had the good-natured sense to puncture the effects with offhanded, cheeky remarks. Before Thorn sang her first note of "Ugly Little Dreams," a powerful paean to film actress turned madwoman Frances Farmer, a sudden, ominous thud came over the PA. Thorn touched her chest and coyly asked the audience, "Am I still here?" while Watts mumbled something about the ghost of Frances Farmer lurking about the cinema. Known for its impeccable cover versions, EBTG ignored the cries for Aerosmith (??) and performed the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale" from Thorn's pre-EBTG solo album, and a Vulgar Boatman number, "There's a Family." Turning momentarily serious between songs, Watts alluded to recently having undergone four life-saving operations in one week. That he has now fully recovered was never more apparent than when he launched into the best moment of the evening--a stunning version of "The Night I Heard Caruso Sing." Getting back to why this was more like a movie showing than a rock concert, when EBTG returned to do its first encore, a sizable chunk of people had already left the theatre. Don't they understand how this concert thing works--the band members pretend to leave, but they really just drink, piss and towel off while everybody stomps their feet and cheers. People--it's planned! Practically in the bag! Perhaps this audience wanted to beat the rush outside, as it might take a full four minutes for Valley Art Theatre to clear.

After the first encore, even more people started to leave. That those same people who gave this wonderful group a standing ovation only ten minutes before were now rushing home to watch Arizona's fine Saturday-evening news coverage was puzzling. The faithful that did remain were now hooting out song titles from Eden, Love Not Money or Idlewind and more of that Aerosmith (did they ever cover "Dream On" or "Dude [Looks Like a Lady]"? Beats me!). Watts had the last word, though. "We've recorded so much, we only have a 15 percent chance of doing what you want. But since it's our band, we'll do what we like." Guess what? Nobody complained.

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