I've been to hundreds of concerts (hmmm, I wonder what the real total number night be?) in venues large and small, but this was the first house concert I have ever attended. A house concert is exactly what the name implies - a concert in a private house. The Kick off your Shoes concerts are held in a nice house on a quiet side street in Topsfield. The concert itself was held in a large den room, with about 40 of us cozy (but not too crowded) in folding chairs. Close and intimate would be an apt description.
I'm always curious about the financial aspects of the music business, and last night was no exception. At house concerts, or at least this series, all ticket proceeds go directly to the performer. Vance did two shows - the early show starting at 7pm, and the late show probably starting at about 9:30pm. We were at the early show, which was sold out at just over 40 people. There were still some seats left for the late show, but it looked like about 30 tickets had been sold. Simple math for Vance's pay - 70 tickets at twenty bucks a pop, or $1,400.
Vance opened with Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come", which is on Vance's latest album. I found this particularly poignant, given the past week's significant political event (Obama clinching the Democratic nomination):
There were times when I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will
Vance didn't say anything about it (either the song or politics), other than saying "I think every concert should start with a Sam Cooke song, don't you?" after he finished singing it. But race cannot be avoided at a Vance Gilbert concert. After all, Vance is a black singer-songwriter in an overwhelmingly white genre. And Vance addresses it with humor, grace, and the very real insight that we are all the same, whether we be black, brown, white, or whatever.
Vance could easily be a professional comedian if he weren't such a gifted musician and songwriter, and he had us in stitches numerous times. One particular comic interlude had us both laughing and crying, as Vance talked about his dogs - including the highly recognizeable dog obsession with tennis balls, and the utter grief we feel over losing one of our four legged friends.
One the music front, Vance played two 45-minute sets for the early show, with much of the material coming from his soon-to-be-released new album. This album, to be called "Sounds Like..." is based on the "what if" concept of Vance writing songs which sound like they were written by others. Included are songs that Vance wrote in the style of Bruce Springsteen (in the Nebraska alubm style), Richard Thompson (a song about his dog!), Tom Waits, and others. Oh, one song was a mashup of Prince and John Haitt!
Early in the set he played a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand" for Larry. I've heard him do this before, and just love the cover. He played "Unfamiliar Moon" from his latest album, followed by "Unforgiveable". From the way back machine, I remember he did "Taking It All To Tennessee", but not a whole lot of other of his older songs. He closed the early show with a cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You", much to the delight of Ashara, our host, who is a big Joni fan.
I don't have a full set list, as I forgot my set list notebook. :-(