Sunday, April 5, 2009

Concert Report: Vance Gilbert @ Tupelo Music Hall

The music keeps on coming, and on Friday night, April 3rd, Patti and I were back at Tupelo's Table 3 for one of the most gifted performers on the singer-songwriter circuit, Vance Gilbert. Where the heck was everyone else? Tupelo was nearly empty, with only about sixty tickets sold (capacity is just over 200). We've seen Vance fill the place before, so what gives? Competition from other shows? I know that the Cowboy Junkies were in Newburyport, and Susan Werner was back at Club Passim. Even still, I would have expected over a hundred people, not sixty.

Vance Gilbert at Tupelo Music Hall, April 3, 2009

Vance is so multi-talented. He can write a song that will make you cry. He's got guitar chops. He's got a voice to die for. He's got command of the stage. And he's got some serious funnies (now there's an oxymoron, eh?). The man could easily be a stand up comic, and he's worked with some of the best stand ups in the business in days gone by, including George Carlin and Bill Cosby. He puts all this to good use in his concerts.

The core of his current show is a handful of songs from his newest album, Up On Rockfield. This is a concept album in which Vance writes songs as inspired by other artists. Some of these are clearly "as if written by" efforts, while others are more "as inspired by." And others are just plain whacky.

Goodbye Pluto, an ode to the former planet, falls squarely in the whacky side; it is written as an inspirational combination of Shawn Colvin and Raffi! Old Man's Advice is written as if by Tom Waits. The line "never look for Friday's kiss with Thursday's broken heart" is clearly straight out of the Tom Waits inspiration book. Welcome to Lovetown combines John Hiatt and Prince! By far the most "as if written by" song is Judge's House, which was written as if it were an outtake from Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album. Close your eyes and listen to the lyrics, and you can absolutely imagine that Bruce wrote this song during the Nebraska period:

It's 3:00 in the morning
On this side of town
A lonely dog barking
Is the only other sound
I'm sitting in my car
Outside this judge's house
Ten years to the day he brought
His gavel down
Ten years ago
But I recall it
Like it was yesterday
A man remembers when you take
Ten years of his life away

Vance Gilbert at Tupelo Music Hall, April 3, 2009

Round Midnight featured Vance channeling first Billie Holiday, then Louis Armstrong — both trumpet and vocals. Responding to a giggling child in the audience, Vance added both the Cookie Monster and Elmo to the vocal impersonations. It's likely that neither of those two Sesame Street characters ever sang the classic Thelonious Monk song before, nor shared a single song with Billie Holiday and Louie Armstrong! Vance had great fun with the giggling child, both during and after the song. It's likely she will remember the night for a long time.

Vance closed with an off microphone, acappella version of King of Rome, a not-infrequent closing song for Vance and clear crowd favorite. Vance has a powerful voice, and King of Rome is a perfect showcase:

In the West End of Derby lives a working man
He says "I can't fly but me pigeons can
And when I set them free
It's just like part of me
Gets lifted up on shining wings"

I was hoping to find a YouTube version of Vance singing King of Rome, but didn't have any luck. But here's a video of Vance singing Unfamiliar Moon from 2006 that nicely illustrates his songwriting, his vocals, and his guitar playing:

The opening act was twenty-year old Berklee College of Music student Emily Elbert.

Emily Elbert at Tupelo Music Hall, April 3, 2009

She did a nice set of her own songs, and considering she's just a sophomore in college, she clearly has one heck of a career ahead of her. You can easily find videos of her doing her own tunes on YouTube, but I was most impressed with her closing cover of Paul McCartney's Oh! Darling, and so I'll leave you with a YouTube video of Emily singing that song:

Vance Gilbert
Tupelo Music Hall, Londonderry, NH
Friday, April 3, 2009
It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference (Todd Rundgren)
Taking It All To Tennessee
Castles Made of Sand (Jimi Hendrix)
Goodbye Pluto
Unfamiliar Moon
Old Man's Advice
Welcome to Lovetown
I'm So Tired of Being Alone (Al Green)
Judge's House
Save the Last Dance for Me (Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman)
Round Midnight (Thelonious Monk)
Some Great Thing
Encore: King of Rome (David Sudbury)
Opening act, Emily Elbert:
In the Summertime
Caught Up In Your Love
Silent Time
Thinking Hybrid Redirected
Easy to Love
Do Without
You Put the Good in Goodbye
Oh! Darling (Lennon/McCartney)

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