From Danny Shapiro
Attention music lovers: It’s time to rehash what has been an unforgettable week in the life that is “Danny’s Endless Quest for the Next Best Gig.”
Over the last seven days, I’ve seen three incredible shows, two at the 9:30 Club and one at the Black Cat, and I was blown away by the artists’ true talent and ability to deeply connect with their audience. But the artists once again re-instilled my belief that great live music is the source of my well being… and the foundation of my soul.
It’s also gratifying and relieving to know that there is such amazing music to discover out there, as compared to the omnipresent uninspiring drivel that so aptly manages to permeate the pores of corporate radio America.
Ok, then… here we go:
Tuesday, September 14
A Diva Returns From The Future; Nothing Will Ever Be The Same: Janelle Monae @ the 9:30 Club.
I must admit that I attended this show solely to see Janelle (the show’s opener), rather than the main act Of Montreal. I also must admit that it seems like most of the audience was in agreement with me. (Apologies to all of you OM fans out there; I enjoyed them a lot, but Janelle was the true star of the night).
Put bluntly, Janelle Monae is the Lauryn Hill for the 21st century–or rather, for the 28th Century since her futuristic-themed alter ego Cindi Mayweather has teleported Janelle from the year 2719 to grace us with her presence today (Are you following?). The result is the nonstop opus that is her 2009 album, “The ArchAndroid”–a full-on hip hop/dance party/soul reinvention.
On top of the exciting robotic/futuristic shtick upon which she builds a unique and visually-alluring video-enhanced set, you can’t take your eyes off Janelle. Her beauty is mesmerizing–she dares you to look anywhere but at her.
The girl can SANG–ranging from operatic soprano heights to bombastic bellows, her energy is comparable to the anthemic bounce of Outkast (a la the irresistible “Tightrope” Featuring Big Boi), her rhyming flow puts her among hip hop’s women elite (the album’s opener “Dance or Die” will put your doubts to rest), and her voice is as graceful and emotional as Roberta Flak (was there a dry eye in the crowd when she belted out the Charlie Chaplin’s hauntingly beautiful “Smile”?).
Reminiscent of Lauryn Hill’s standout title track (#14) “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” from that breakthrough 1997 record, Janelle embodies the same controlled yet acrobatic vocal melisma that Lauryn gave us way back when, leaving the audience hanging onto each soaring note.
Needless to say, I haven’t felt a crowd so enthusiastically in awe of an opening artist… ever. Assuming she sticks around before returning back to the future, be sure to pick up the album (in addition to her 2007 debut EP, “Metropolis: The Chase Suite”) and catch her when she’s back in town!
Thursday, September 16
A Match Made in Indie Rock Heaven: Jenny & Johnny @ the Black Cat.
I saw this same show a few weeks’ back on vacation in Portland, Oregon at the Doug Fir, (a GREAT small indie venue), so I was interested in adding a bit of perspective on what two weeks of touring could do to enhance a newly-outfitted recording and touring duo: Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley/half of Postal Service/Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins fame) and (singer-songwriter/moody heartthrob) Johnathan Rice.
The results were stellar: it was like seeing a brand new show–the two were musically tighter and stronger sounding, appearing relaxed and comfortable with the crowd, as if realizing this juncture in their respective respected careers is, more than anything, a gift.
Jenny Lewis is the kind of girl you want to hang out with at a party: the sweet-natured, gorgeous-locked beauty whose country-tinged somber crooning vocals are crisp and usually carry high above Johnathan Rice’s gruff-toned moody blues vocals. Together, the pair (along with a well-fitted electric guitarist and drummer) delighted the crowd with a slew of tracks from their 2010 album “I’m Having Fun Now,” in addition to reaching into Jenny’s back catalog, including the crowd favorite “Acid Tongue.”
Bringing four lucky fans on stage to support Johnny as the backing choir to Jenny’s lead on another one of her singles, the Black Cat was the site of yet another rare live music moment where everything seemed almost too good to be true: the audience followed in tune (well, almost in tune), singing along as if alone in their shower, and Jenny & Johnny gratefully recognized that such a moment of solidarity is not a nightly occurrence.
The show’s closing encore, a somber cover of the 1975 Nazareth-recorded anthem “Love Hurts” left everyone hoping that this duo’s musical journey is anything but a short-lived affair.
For those who missed it, the lovely duo will be back in the area at Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore, on October 25.
Monday, September 20
The Epitome of Versatility: Groovy Musical Genius, Personified – Jamie Lidell @ the 9:30 Club.
Throughout the show last night, I was trying to ascribe a suitable label for Jamie Lidell for those who missed this pinnacle-reaching end of the concert week. I failed, but he does embody the conglomeration of the following comparable artists: Beck, Sam Cooke, Arrested Development, The Commodores, Justin Timberlake.
A soul-baring, beat-boxing, musician grandmaster MC, Jamie Lidell is a hip-hop/funk/soul/get-your-body moving vocal impresario. Drop everything now and get your hands on the 2005 album “Multiply,” as well as his recent 2010 record “Compass.”
A jack-of-all-trades, Jamie can belt out ballads that make you feel like the souls of Otis and Sam have entered the room. Jamie can stand on stage alone and create a beat-box-infused loop that feels like the entire Tribe Called Quest is behind him, and together with his band, can create an early 90s-era “Everyday People” feel-good jam, forcing you to bounce to the rhythm. Moreover, the band is of equal caliber, being able to follow Jamie’s unique vision and improvised direction throughout the 90- minute set requires a certain perfection.
I wish more people were there last night (the place was barely a third-full), but those who were in attendance were soaking up every minute–and every spacious square footage of dance space–of the melodies, the energy, and the rare-form vibes of positivity flowing throughout the room.
Highlights for me were the set’s opener (and new album title track) “Compass,” the upbeat dance jam, “I Wanna Be Your Telephone,” and the brilliant strings-tugging-at-your-heart, Chilly Gonzales/Jamie Lidell-penned, “What Is It This Time”
Jamie, thank you for taking us on a Monday-night journey, far away from the lurking and impending woes that grace us on this Tuesday workday.
Be back next week… thanks for reading.
Danny Shapiro is an avid music lover who has the good fortune to live very close the music scene on the 14th and U corridor.