I just returned from seeing one the musical icons of my youth, Joan Baez being probably the only other artist that I was so taken with during that period – seeing her at her peak would have been wonderful. Probably Buffy at her peak would have been better than tonight, since her voice has faded, but the politics and presence haven’t from what I can tell.
I noticed that the crowd must have had a median age somewhere in the 60s. Some younger people were there but mostly accompanying their parents who must all be aging hippies. There was certainly proof that white people don’t have tribal rhythm, and a lot of people were reliving their hippy youth – disconcerting for anyone who thinks that the older generation should probably have grown up by now and left fan-boy displays for the youth 🙂
The evening started out with Kev Carmody, who strolled onto stage with his guitar and made us feel like we were around a camp-fire while he told tales and sung folk songs. He only had about 20 minutes but did a wonderful version of Moonstruck from One Night The Moon. Then he followed that up by ending with From Little Things Big Things Grow, getting us to sing the chorus.
Michelle Shocked came out for about 40 minutes. She started with Anchorage, with the band (keyboard, bass and horn/percussion players) coming on bit by bit. Then she went into Memories of East Texas, spinning it out into telling us about getting dumped before the prom and getting a Facebook Â friend request from the brother of the dumper years later, and also the story of how she tried to follow the life of Kerouac and ended up with an album that she didn’t know she made (the bootleg campfire tapes). She left the stage for a song – letting the band perform a composition by the horn/percussion player, which was an impressive latin jazz groove with the melody taken primarily by the bassist on a six-string instrument. It was quite impressive.
Michelle came back for a wonderful version of The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore (that’s not Michelle’s version, but it’s a wonderful one). She finished with one of a series of collaborative pieces she’s done with her partner – and artist – about important women in American history, This one was about Ella Fitzgerald, and the musicians handled a series of reasonably complex changes of styles that documented Ella’s career.
Buffy came out with a four-piece band – a guitarist, bass player, drummer and her – and they covered a range of pieces from early folk (Piney Wood Home was the first song off the blocks) to stuff from her latest album in 2008 which is much more rocky, but less political than her 1992 album. As the previous clip shows, she can’t hit the high notes for any duration any more but she works around this; the voice much more suits Codeine now. One of the other highlights was Universal Soldier, which had much the same introduction as the clip. Country Girl was also done quite nicely as was Cripple Creek, with the mouth bow (and she reminisced about the Sesame Street performance with a horse).
One of the songs she could have passed on, in my opinion, is Up Where We Belong. I guess she feels that she is entitled to reclaim it from Joe Cocker (and it’s the title of her 1996 best-of CD), but it’s one of those period pieces that I think should stay in that period 🙂 Still, it was fun to see these burly rock musicians with the semi-mohawks and low-slung instruments Â being all sensitive for this and other pieces.
Buffy was also (almost shyly, it seemed) appreciative and amused by having her songs covered by people like Bobby Darren, who sent her aÂ bouquetÂ of yellow roses, and Elvis Presley among others. They all covered Until It’s Time For You To Go and she talked about throwing her own songs into the mix of standard 400 year old Welsh songs that were the standard folk repertoire. Apparently she was down in the basement listening to artists like Elvis and Carl Perkins when she should have been doing the ironing; writing and recording rockier pieces appears to be a welcome change for her.
As well as Universal Soldier (in terms of protest songs), she performed a few pieces off Unlikely Coincidences, including Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Priests of the Golden Bull. Unfortunately Â the mix wasn’t great and the guitar parts were a bit lost . They were still great, though, and she ended up with Star Walker followed by an encore of Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo.
It was a wonderful evening, but I find that I’ve now linked to a couple of Youtube clips which are arguably better than what I saw 🙁 The problem is that it was just her and three others tonight, whereas some of the songs benefit from backing singers. In some places Buffy attempted to sing backing parts as well as her own, and in some others I think they had Â a backing tape. The guitarist and bass player contributed a bit of singing, but I really wish she’d had a full entourage to help out. I had a great time, however, and don’t begrudge the experience of seeing an icon of North American folk singing and songwriting and of political and cultural activism for native rights.
Coming out of the concert I realised that it’s really a little sad hearing protest songs that are as old as me being sung by their originator, and knowing that they’re still as relevant as they were when they were written. Lots may have changed over the course of my life in terms of technology and understanding the way the world works – better medicines, and all that – but governments and business still operates in the same way and we still have to fight for basic human rights every day. We need people like Buffy Sainte-Marie to continue telling us that we’re fighting wars that we shouldn’t be; that raping and pillaging the land in search of fossil fuels and uranium is wrong. We need protest songs to be front and centre again 🙂