Quick quiz: Which of these things would you be doing during an indoor concert to show your respect to an amazing artist who is singing her heart out, and to your fellow concertgoers who have paid $35-40 to see the show? A) Talking constantly. B) Texting. C) Smoking cigarettes and cigars. If you answered D) "I'm not a boor who would do any of the above," you are correct! Unfortunately, A-C surrounded me last night as I tried to soak in Bettye LaVette's terrific performance at the Quad's Waterfront Stage in Burlington. It was the first night of glorious weather in what seemed like forever, perfect for enjoying music as the sun--remember the sun?--started to recline over the Adirondacks. I did my best to tune out the rude texting and talking, but after sucking down half a steroid inhaler, I decided staying for Buddy Guy wasn't in the cards. Note to nicotine addicts: Some of us really are allergic.
That aside, I'm still glad I got to hear Bettye LaVette sing live. This grande dame of soul has so much color, texture and dimension to her voice--qualities that can't possibly be captured fully on a recording. (Although I admit I'm headed over to iTunes and Amazon after I've finished my work this weekend to treat myself! Nothing like a little scientific study of the subject, right?) LaVette's stage presence is also remarkable. She powered through her 55-minute set with the vigor of a woman half her age (63), moving and grooving on uptempo numbers--wearing an impressive pair of high heels. She also had to perform while facing directly into unshaded sunlight, which was still pretty strong at 7 p.m. "I wish the sun was shining on y'all instead of me," she joked early in the show.
But LaVette's energy never flagged. In fact, it seemed the men who made up her tight ensemble--most of whom looked much younger than the diva--were working awfully hard to keep up with her. The middle part of her set was a chronological career retrospective, starting in the early 1960s. It showed her range: Some numbers were slower and bluesier; some had more of an upbeat Motown edge. One particularly awesome moment took place when she put down the mike to riff with growly intensity on the word "never." The song (about a man) was from 1963, and the full lyric was: "It's a pity and a shame/You'll never change." Word, girl!
I'll 'fess up that I wasn't familiar with LaVette's work until I heard her sing at the Inaugural Celebration concert at the Lincoln Memorial. For some reason, my emotions let loose that day. The music somehow released eight years of pent-up political stress. I was especially moved when LaVette and Jon Bon Jovi sang Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," a civil rights protest song. Cooke's original is already a fave; it's even in my iPod workout mix. I DVR'd the concert, and have rewatched LaVette's duet version many times.
She sang a slow, forceful "A Change..." last night. She personalized the lyrics to her experience: a woman who has lived through so much of what needed to be changed. "I go to the movies and I go downtown/Somebody keeps telling me, little girl you can't come around." You believe her when she gets to the final line, which she has altered from "I know a change is gonna come" to "I knew change had to come." Her a cappella encore, a gospel number about surviving time in the desert and having gratitude for the bread of life, was a musically and emotionally fitting finale.
So, you tell me: How was Buddy Guy?