Diamanda Gals, and John Paul Jones
December 2, 1994
Three hundred years ago, Diamanda Gals 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 Gals' 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, Gals 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. Gals has a voice that can be mesmerizing to an almost religious degree in one song, and redefine the term "shrill" in the next.
Gals 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, "Sktosene," and laid down the vocalist's musical agenda in no uncertain terms. Gals 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, "Sktosene" 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. Gals 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 Gals 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 Gals 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, Gals 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 Gals' 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.
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.
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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.