- Tracy Chapman, Beacon Theater, New York, August 2, 2000 – By C. Bottomley, The Live Wire Review @ www.vh1.com
Superstardom isn’t in the singer/songwriter job description. There aren’t any solos to stick your tongue out to. The music videos use more Vaseline-smeared lenses than digital animation. And the closest the genre ever came to having an inflatable phallus onstage was when Bob Dylan asked Sam Shepherd to accompany the Rolling Thunder Revue.
Tracy Chapman knows her job. Yet compared to the rest of her ilk she’s a supernova. The unplugged craze followed her standing down an audience crying for Stevie Wonder with just a guitar during an anti-apartheid benefit in 1988. But while her open face and Odetta-inspired vocals inspire their own quiet charisma, she’s still a writer who constantly aspires to excellence.
You could hear it tonight when she played New York’s Beacon Theater, with nothing but her band, a spotlight, and a few thousand hushed souls for company. The songs from the Grammy-winning debut to this year’s Telling Stories are filled with confused protagonists, but Chapman can’t stop loving them. She speaks for them better than they ever could for themselves. When Chapman sings a line from “Baby, Can I Hold You,” “Years gone by and still/ Words don’t come easily/ Like forgive me,” she doesn’t need to say more. We get it.
With a cast of characters never quite herself and a storytelling ability best heard on the escalating escapist fantasy of “Fast Car,” Chapman’s songs find rare wisdom in the genre’s trappings. As she warns in “At This Point in My Life,” “Before we talk commitment/ Let me tell you of my past.” Tonight Chapman was just as worried about the present, stumbling through a lengthy anecdote about confronting her own insignificance at the New York Planetarium.
Like most of her tales, there was no neat moral, and the crowd was more interested in a woman’s yearning expressed so well in Stories’ “Wedding Song.” One lech repeatedly cried out that this unlikely sex symbol was a “hot mama jama.” However, it was well into the show before Chapman became one, closing the show with a growling ride through “Give Me One Reason” that brought the audience to their feet.
Chapman’s encore showed off both her sides, tipping the dreadlocks to two performers who knew how to soak up the adulation. Her rendition of “Hound Dog” owed more to Big Mama Thornton’s earthiness than Elvis’ sneer. But “Get Up Stand Up” seemed drained of its political bent, favoring instead the unlikely party she had gotten started right here.