I think most of us in high school and college had that “go to” album we listened to that sustained us through whatever developmental crisis we were agonizing with on any particular day. Whenever I got dumped by a boyfriend—and this happened more than I care to admit—it was always Carole King’s “Tapestry” album or Simon and Garfunkels’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” “The Boxer” encouraged me to keep fighting and “You’ve Got a Friend” got me through a lot of teenage angst. I even tried writing my own song about lost love, but the only lyrics I could come up with were, “I hope you rot in hell.” Anyways, music was always the place I went to find comfort.
I realized I have not felt that kind of spiritual sanctuary from music for along time, until our evening at the Alberta Rose Theater. Songbird and songwriter, Heather Nova’s ethereal vocals and lyrics projects an authenticity and wisdom that even make feeling bad feel good, or at least make bad feel better. A native of Bermuda, this was apparently her first trip back touring the USA in a decade. How have I managed this long without her? The emotions and stories she shared in her songs show pain and humility, but also peace and promise. She handled her songs as many would strive to live life, with a steady calm and peaceful reconciliation.
The cozy venue of the Alberta Rose Theater further lended to the intimacy of Nova’s performance. This is a small theater and I felt like one of the privileged select few, being granted an evening with this very special musician. Her back up vocalist melodically complemented Nova’s voice beautifully. This was also a really great audience. No inconsiderate standing in the rows and blocking seated viewers . Rather, we all sat back peacefully while being rocked in the reassuring arms of Heather Nova.
A few nights later, we continued our female music wayfaring at the Aladdin Theater for an evening with Joan Osborne. If Heather Nova embodies the soothing spirit of the feminine voice, Joan Osborne embodies its power. To be honest, I had not been a follower of her music since the hit, “One of Us.” So it was particularly thrilling to see the song goddess that she has evolved into over the years. She is also a musical chameleon who handedly masters the blues, jazz, rock, and I would have loved to hear her attack gospel music. Furthermore, any woman with her own record label called “Womanly Hips, “ deserves our utmost respect. It was a another magical evening with a 50 something year old woman who can still strut it. In a couple of weeks, we will be returning to the Alberta Rose Theater for a tribute concert to one of my personal biggest female music heroes: Linda Ronstadt. I can’t wait!
This was clearly a 50 plus audience judging by the number of trips the audience had to make to the bathroom. It is obvious to me that several of you guys out there are long overdue for your prostate exams. The liquid gold for Urologists is right here in Portland Theaters, folks, with performances that attract the 50 plus age group. It got to be really comical after a while; I kept thinking of the song, “Old Man River,” every time another guy got up to use the bathroom. In all fairness, though, it was not just the men who frequently had to pee. As soon as we sat down in our seats, the woman next to me and her husband joyfully excused themselves, explaining, “Mother Nature’s calling!” Then when our row stood up so they could return to their seats, she playfully warned, “We’ll probably need to make one more pit stop right before the show starts!” Fun Couple. Jeez! Is this what I still have look forward to? I think when I inevitably develop age-related hypertension some day, I will opt out of diuretic treatment and go for a different type of blood pressure pill. Aging can really suck so I will be gleefully accommodating to the urinary needs of my generation. Excuse me, I gotta go pee.
When my youngest was home for spring break he asked me what musicians I would be really excited to see. Who would generate a fist pump and a yes, like making a 20 foot putt for birdie. For him it was Kanye West. I had to think about it. Who have I not seen that I would be, to use a term from my youth, totally psyched to see?
Neil Young, especially electric Neil Young with Crazy Horse. I could die happy if I could see a performance of Cowgirl in the Sand and Down by the River. Never going to happen.
PJ Harvey. And with a new release, maybe she will tour the US and I will get an opportunity. Looking at her tour schedule I am not going to hold my breath for 2016.
And Heather Nova.
I have been a fan of Heather Nova since her album Siren in 1998. Man time flies. Siren spawned a few hits, and of her recorded work it is the more produced and lush sounding. I get the feeling that after Siren she walked her own musical path. Every two or three years releasing another album, all less produced and all tremendous.
There are a few artists I check on from time to time to see if they are touring as Portland is often missed. Ask me how bitter I am Garbage skipped Portland for their 20th anniversary tour of Garbage. Ms Nova played occasional concerts in Europe but, for what ever reason, had quit touring the US. It had been over a decade so I guessed the odds of seeing her in Portland were slim.
So in December when I saw she was coming to the Alberta Rose I immediately got a pair of tickets and had a fist pump ‘yes’ moment. Now I had to wait four and a half months.
Was it worth 10 years, 4 months and 11 days?
She is tremendous live.
Music is weird. There is a lot of bland, so-so music. A few get the perfect storm of a great tune, great lyrics and a great voice for a song, the poor one hit wonders. Some catch lightening in a bottle for an album, think Born to Run or Dark Side of the Moon. She has done it for a career.
I do not know what it is, but she has the rare combination to write and perform music that is truly touching.
She played acoustic guitar, accompanied by the very talented Arnulf Lindner, who played piano, various string interments (electric guitar, cello and a weird electric base that looked like an acromegalic ukulele), and harmonies.
The songs were stripped down and intimate compared to the recorded versions, but no less beautiful, and I always enjoy her music. The problem is I lack the adjectives to describe how much I have enjoyed her music over the years. She is one of the rare artists who I have not stopped listening to over the years.
And she even played my favorite of all her songs, I Wanna Be Your Light.
The Alberta Rose was only half filled, albeit with an enthusiastic crowd. I hope she wasn’t put off by the small crowd and returns before another 10 years passes.
If you want to get a sense of her music, her Portland show was recorded and available on her website for a mere $15. It is a best of, well sort of. It is a partial best of as 19 of her 129 songs can only give a taste of the beauty of her music and voice. And of course there is the You Tubes.
After the show it was time to eat. Alberta Street is another part of Portland I would not recognize from my childhood in NE Portland. Gentrification at its finest or worst, depending on your outlook, We decided on the CruzRoom.
I have to admit the name is off putting this Presidential season. Every time I think of Cruz I recall the Rolling Stone description
He used a German term, backpfeifengesicht, literally “a face in need of a good punch,” to describe Cruz.
I want food, not a punch in the face.
Fortunately it was food.
It is an order at the bar kind of place, but the service was friendly and very fast. The food is interesting, but not in a bad way. They call themselves a Taco Lab. What they do is offer a variety of appetizers, but placed on a small soft taco shell to facilitate eating. So I had fish and chips and some peanut thai chicken, but served on a soft taco shell. Technically a taco I suppose. Delicious to eat, but odd. Kind of like putting all the different appetizers in a bowel and then calling it soup. Each taco costs $3.50 and I found two to be filling, so a good bargain.
What makes a great singer? I don’t know. There are certainly a lot of fine singers, who can carry a tune. And then there are those who whose voices are unique with meaning and power, there is an indefinable extra in their voice that raises them above others.
Examples, at least for me, would be Janice Joplin, Stevie Nicks and Regina Specter. And Joan Osborne.
I have been listening to Joan Osborne since Relish, the source of her one sort of hit, One of Us.
Her voice is deep and smooth, and over the years as matured like a good whiskey, becoming smoother and more delicious. Rhapsody classifies her as blue eyed soul, a category I did not know existed.
She sings blues, soul, and gospel infused songs with power and emotion. As Kerry and I discuss frequently, there are singers, there are performers, and there are both. She is both, talking pleasantly with the crowd between songs.
She was backed up by a keyboardist and an electric guitar, oddly, like Heather Nova, no drums. Percussion is evidently passé.
A great show by a fantastic singer.