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Friday, April 01, 2005

About Cassandra

So, we went to see Cassandra Wilson last night.

Unlike last week's Robyn Hitchcock show, this was in a proper auditorium, with padded seats, no smoking and no beer; and the crowd was a lot more diverse - the guy two seats from me was dragging an oxygen tank; the woman in back of us was so big she couldn't fit in her seat and had to wedge herself in sideways; lots of people dressed up for the night; a couple down in front were wearing technicolor animal print faux-fur pants and hats with bright silky shirts and long beaded dreadlocks - grooovy.

The band was great. Cassandra sounded great. There was a drum solo. They played songs from Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Billy Holliday, Bob Dylan, Sting, Van Morrison, etc.. Still, it seemed like she only did a dozen songs, even though she filled up nearly two hours - most of the songs were long, with extended intros, solo sections and endings. I got two songs on my little camera. They came out OK - good enough for souvenirs.

For some reason, I expected she'd be a serious and humorless diva, and that she'd basically duplicate her songs as recorded with a lush and lavish stage show full of new-agey lighting and washes of keyboard strings. All wrong. She was relaxed and laid-back (the very first thing she did when she walked out was kick off her shoes); she improvised her vocal parts on nearly all the songs I recognized - changing her phrasing and melody considerably from the records, and made it sound effortless and fun. I suppose that's what a good jazz singer does, but this was the first time I'd seen a singer of her caliber, live. Sure, some rock singers mess with their delivery a little bit here and there, but very few would start a verse, sing it double-time with a totally different melody, and expect (and get) the band to follow them immediately into a chorus - all of them enjoying the change-up. I know if the singer in any of my old bands had tried that, the rest of would've just played out the rest of the verse as we'd rehearsed it, after exchanging puzzled looks - if we were even paying attention to (or could even hear) the singer.

And not that it really matters, but she's much shorter and older than I expected. Even though I've seen her on TV before, I had this mental image of her looking more like Vanessa Williams - thirty-something, tall and slinky (maybe it's that shot of her back on New Moon Daughter). Well, she's not tall, and not really slinky; and she's actually 50. It's amazing what a camera can do...

Next show, MerleFest - 110 bands, 4 days / 3 nights of camping and bluegrass/country/etc music - Loretta Lynn! Alisson Krauss! Del McCoury! Buddie Miller! Bela Fleck! Etta Baker! The Chieftans! Ricky Skaggs! Yahoo!

All images Copyright 2004-2005, cleek.