LOCAL LIVE! In Denver, About Denver, Musically Denver!!!!
Joan Armatrading, August 4, 2010, Chautauqua Auditorium, Boulder
Joan Armatrading is one of those baby boom generation artists with a vast repertoire of songs from decades ago when she first became popular. In her case that generally ran from the mid 70s to the mid 80s. But unlike many artists of the era, she continues to put out vital music that can stand shoulder to shoulder with her classic hits. Wednesday night at Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, Armatrading mixed equal parts new and old material throughout the evening highlighting a career that remains vibrant 30 years after her initial success.
Her new album is called This Charmed Life and she played half a dozen tunes from that one. She also included three songs from her previous album, 2007’s outstanding Into the Blues. Often, artists of her generation will play some songs from their current album and then nothing else from the last 25 years. It was good to hear those songs from Into the Blues because they are of the same quality as her 20th Century hits. “Something’s Gotta Blow” is a high tension tune with massive reverb on the vocals and a pressure cooker buildup that served as a great counterpoint for some of the ballads that came later in the evening. She also played “A Woman in Love” which was a bit of a hit three years ago (at least around these parts) and “Into the Blues” which isn’t strictly blues, but is Armatrading’s own, personal take on that venerable art form.
Her new album has much more of a rock ‘n’ roll sound than the last one. That was especially apparent during “Best Dress On” where Armatrading got the whole audience clapping and singing the chorus. She encouraged the crowd by playing on regional rivalries. She claimed that the prior night at the Botanic Gardens in Denver, the audience got into the sing-a-long more than any other audience on the tour. Surely Boulder could do better than that? After a good ten minutes or so of clapping and chanting the chorus, the Boulderites finally gave in only to be told we merely made the top ten and didn’t surpass the Denver fans. Damn! Actually, I didn’t know whether to be ecstatic or crushed. I was part of the crowd in Boulder that fell short, but I live in the Denver area. It’s just like a Red Sox-Rockies game; who to root for? What a dilemma.
The mere “top ten” performance was foreshadowed early in the concert when she played “All the Way From America” and suggested that everyone put their hands up in front of them and move them back and forth with palms facing forward. Far less than half of the taciturn Boulder crowd joined. Armatrading stopped the song and explained that everybody really needed to join in because it looked “really cool.” She restarted the song and at that point 98% of the audience joined the choreography. “Really cool”? well, maybe “kinda cool.”
Armatrading will be 60 in December. She still has a great voice; maybe even a little earthier than during her main hit making years of 30 years ago or so. The only glitches occurred during “The Weakness in Me,” a poignant tale of a woman in the middle of a love triangle (pick one!). She had a bit of difficulty on the highest notes and let a few of them fade quickly after touching them only briefly. Maybe it was the altitude.
As she has the last few years, she played with a backing trio of bass, drums and keyboards leaving her as the only guitarist in the band. Time was when she had to hire guys to play the rippin’ lead guitar for her live band. Not anymore. Over the last several years, she’s risen from playing strictly rhythm to doing all that she used to plus tearing up her own solos. She’s far from an Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughn but, really, how many of those are there? Her playing is fluid and melodic, but it seems that she has to think about each note rather than just letting it pour forth.
She had so many high quality songs from back in the day that she was bound to omit many favorites. However, the ones she chose were hard to argue with. “Love and Affection” is a perennial favorite and gave her a chance to play the 12 string acoustic. Also, the drummer got a chance to play a sax solo on that one. The sax was a nice addition to the sonic mix, but it did sound a little like a drummer playing a sax. “Tall in the Saddle” was a little more obscure, but is one of those great tunes that starts slow and builds. The first encore song was “Willow” which provided another audience participation opportunity as we sang the chorus a few times. “Drop the Pilot,” a rocker from the early 80s was the closer designed to leave the crowd panting for more.
Show Some Emotion
Something's Gotta Blow
All the Way From America
Into the Blues
A Woman in Love
Love Love Love
Love and Affection
Tall in the Saddle
This Charmed Life
Weakness in Me
Best Dress On
You Rope You Tie Me
Heading Back to New York City
(I Love It When You) Call Me Names
Me Myself I
Drop the Pilot
Gary Foote, drums, sax, backing vocals
John Ridley, bass, backing vocals
Spencer Cozens, keyboards, backing vocals