Monday’s Gazette story on Jimi Hendrix at Union College brought back memories of many shows there.
Maybe my favorite Memorial Chapel show — including Bruce Springsteen (yeah, this show), the Mahavishnu Orchestra, James Cotton with Matt Murphy, Orleans, BoDeans, Alejandro Escovedo (a Music Haven show), Dave Mason, Jorma Kaukonen, and Wilco — was the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. I’d helped Milton Zapolski set up recording gear for a WMHT broadcast when the maestro asked our permission to rehearse their program. An audience of two, we gladly gave it, and saw a show so fine it compensated for missing Joe Jackson or Patti Smith there.
Headed to a movie on campus, I saw a crayoned sign taped to the chapel door — TONIGHT DON ELLIS ORCHESTRA — forgot the movie and saw his huge band play “The French Connection” music.
At Messa Rink, I saw Indigo Girls folk-charm everybody; Billy Joel play piano one-handed, his other shoved in his pocket; Green Day kick water bottles to the sweaty dancing crowd; and the Ramones blast punk-rock ecstasy.
The Rev. Al Sharpton led James Brown and his matching-suited band (like the crews Hendrix led) to the Camp Union stage behind West College as fans on a facing stone wall danced unison steps and gestures like airplanes, pit bulls, ferris wheels. When NRBQ played there, Terry Adams’ grand piano arrived in a horse trailer. The Band brought a bunch of us into their dressing room to wait out a rainstorm, Levon Helm offering cigarettes from his pack, southern gentleman-style.
In the field house, where Hendrix also played, cool shows starred folkies I’ve long forgotten, but also George Clinton’s unforgettable P-Funk All Stars, some in diapers.
In those days, well-funded student concert committees brought major artists to campuses across the region, some entering local legend: the Allman Brothers at Skidmore; U2 at UAlbany MayFest; and yes, Jimi Hendrix at the RPI armory.
singers steal the show(s)
We talked mostly about guitar players here last week, yet singers more than held their own in three shows I saw.
Last Thursday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall — she said it was like Wedgwood china, with chairs — Kathy Mattea sang away past concerns over vocal problems in her first number, going way low on the lyrics “down in the hollow,” soaring high with “howling at the moon.” Longtime guitarist Bill Cooley (29 years on the road together) led a bluegrass-tight quartet; versatile, strong and perfectly suited to Mattea’s musical and thematic range. Underappreciated — “country” is too narrow for her — Mattea sang mainstream (“Love at the Five and Dime,” “18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses”), up-hollow (“Coal Tattoo”), blues (“Chocolate on My Tongue”), super-poignant (“Where’ve You Been,” “Mercy Now” perfectly paired with “Holy Now”) — even “Ode to Billy Joe.” Reaching a higher artistic level than ever, Mattea’s voice is a miracle, but, like Rosanne Cash, her strongest musical asset is her mind, her understanding of a song’s meaning.
Last Friday at A Place for Jazz, Jazzmeia Horn (real name, and earned: she’s an instrument) sang with a trio (no guitar). Just 27, heiress to Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughn in her fearlessness, her willingness to fly without a net, Horn sang a few ballads straight up. “The Peacocks” was low-key sumptuous, though “Tenderly” jumped right into “Misty” with a blues edge, then “The Nearness of You” before going home in a stunning cadenza. More often, she deconstructed songs into skat-powered pure sound. Hair spun in a tall orange turban, girly-graceful in an ankle-length, vivid print dress, Horn sang a more free-flying show than last June at SPAC, freestyling. “What’s Goin’ On?” started at sea level but launched into dynamic preach-sing space, a technique Horn often used to reclaim tunes from the band with dizzying vocal fireworks.
Last Saturday at The Egg’s (smaller) Swyer Theater, a jazz combo celebrated the legacy of Leonard Bernstein in his centennial year with admirable tunefulness and taste. Singer Jane Monheit, breezy, charming with Broadway/cabaret flair, crooned everything in a drawling blur that smeared the words in favor of melismatic melodrama, better suited to musical theater, perhaps, than jazz, the tremendous band’s virtuoso flavor. Arrangements and instrumentals by eloquent pianist John diMartino, featured guitarist Frank Vignola, and a step-lightly rhythm section of bassist Gary Mazzaroppi and drummer Vince Cherico were beautifully elegant, understated to supremely compelling effect. “Quiet Girl” and “Big Stuff” offered a breathless lyricism while “America” formed out of agitated riffing, sailing gracefully down to earth. Monheit was at her best in “Day After Day,” a jaunty waltz, and “Some Other Time,” Vignola’s guitar matching her for expressive grace.
Canadian troubadour Fred Eaglesmith drives his vegetable-oil-powered tour bus to Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs) tonight. Tif Ginn opens. 7 p.m. $20 advance, $22 door, $11 students and children
Brooks Williams from Statesboro, Georgia, (really!) takes over Friday, toting tons of tunes (“Statesboro Blues”?) from 23 albums. 8 p.m. $20 advance, $22 door, $11 students and children
Saturday, the Irish string band I Draw Slow — young, feisty and already a festival fave — plays the Caffe. 8 p.m. $22 advance, $25 door, $12.50 students and children
Sunday: Guitars! Chicagoan-then-Vermonter Paul Asbell, Celtic stylist Tony McManus and German guitar AND violin talent Julia Toaspern play separately and together. Asbell played with hometown greats Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and others before moving east into the Unknown Blues Band and Kilimanjaro, and teaching a UVM kid named Trey Anastasio. 7 p.m. $20 advance, $22 door, $11 students and children
Fine folk happens other than at the Caffe, too: Andrea Beaton and Troy MacGillivray bring peppy and profound tunes from Canada’s Celtic Maritimes to Old Songs (37 S. Main St., Voorheesville) Friday. They play things with strings, they sing, they dance. 7:30 p.m. $25, children $5. 518-765-2815 www.oldsongs.org
The Portland Cello Project plays Radiohead songs Saturday at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (30 Second St.); Patti King of The Shins sings them. The first set is various, the second given over entirely to “OK Computer.” Cellos? Yes, plus percussion, brass and reeds. Their first tour was with innovative guitarist Buckethead; their goal (per their website) is “to take the cello to places you wouldn’t normally hear it.” 8 p.m. $36, $29. 518-273-0038 www.troymusichall.org
‘THE VOICE’ AT THE EGG
Vusi Mahlasela, hailed as “The Voice” in his native South Africa, celebrates Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday and 25 years of freedom from apartheid in a full-band blast at The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) on Saturday. Like many top world-beat giants, Mahlasela projects powerful social messages with music of undeniable body-rocking power. And, like many top musical imports, he first played here under the auspices of what is now the Music Haven organization. Presented with the Sanctuary for Independent Media, the show benefits the Sanctuary’s purposefully eclectic radio station WOOC. 7:30. $29.50. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.orgwww.mediasanctuary.org
The Egg presents rootsy music all weekend, by Arlo Guthrie Friday, celebrating his classic “Alice’s Restaurant” with band featuring daughter Sarah Lee (7:30 p.m. $59.50, $49.50, $39.50); Richie Furay, founder of Buffalo Springfield, then Poco, on Saturday (7:30 p.m. $36, VIP $86); the durable duo America on Saturday (8 p.m., $89.75, $69.75, $54.75); and Americana youngbloods Sawyer Fredericks and Parsonsfield on Sunday (8 p.m. $29.50)