- Concert Review: Tracy Chapman – By: Tom Roland, Reuters/Hollywood Reporter Sun June 22, 2003 03:08 PM ET
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – “There is fiction in the space between,” Tracy Chapman sang in “Telling Stories.”
One of her best creations, the line is a perfect summation of what sets her apart as a songwriter and musician. While most artists tend to dwell on the most extreme emotions — the exhilaration of new love, for example, or the pain and anger of heartbreak — Chapman, in a typically midtempo groove, chooses instead to work the less glamorous emotions between. Doubt, contemplation, caution, balance, decision-making, serenity, fear — the subtleties of one’s existence are the grit for her observant songs.
Chapman filled one hour and 45 minutes with those pieces, folding such disparate styles as gospel, blues and reggae into a folk-pop core. With a six-piece backing ensemble, she delivered the material with a reedy simplicity. Using understated, lightly adorned phrasing, she was at once confident, vulnerable, spiritual, relaxing and friendly.
In sonic context, nearly all of her lyrics were easily understood, giving her audience plenty to digest. She tackled societal contradictions in “Why?” admitted fear in “Happy” and considered death in “Another Sun,” the latter two emanating from her current album “Let It Rain.”
“Fast Car,” the diamond that brought her to prominence 15 years ago, still sheds an impressive insight, dwelling on a life of disappointment led by a woman who takes responsibilities seriously, contrasted with two generations of men around her who have used the bottle to escape them. Although the character has only scraped by thanks to meager jobs and government checks, she still manages to face her life with hope and dignity. And all of Chapman’s material, no matter how bleak it sometimes appears on the surface, manages to incorporate both of those elements.
The opening duo, eastmountainsouth, worked primarily in medium and slow tempos, with producer Mitchell Froom sitting in. Peter Adams combined a Kenny Loggins sort of resonance with a Southern reserve, while Kat Maslich brought the approach of bluegrass’ Alison Krauss to mind. With the exception of a surprising acoustic blast of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” the songs were fragile and artsy — intriguing but delivered a little too preciously. Garrison Starr joined the duo for a final number, a stunning piece of gospel and bluegrass harmonies, delivered a capella.
While eastmountainsouth could have used a dose of humor, Chapman’s nigh-apologetic between-song observations and interplay with the crowd brought a light balance to the depth of the evening. The night would have been helped by a few more musical contrasts, but that would have been a bit out of character. Chapman works the middle, and she does it quite gracefully.
- Tracy Chapman – By STEVEN MIRKIN, Variety, Sun., Jun. 22, 2003, 5:15pm PT
(Wiltern Theater; 2,000 capacity; $55 top)
Presented by Clear Channel. Reviewed June 19, 2003.
Band: Butch, Joe Gore, Phil Parlapiano, Carla Renata Williams, Dave Sutton, Rock Deadrick.
Also appearing: Eastmountainsouth
When a performer is known as a singer-songwriter, the expectation is that when they perform, their singing and their songs will take precedence. That was not the case at Tracy Chapman’s Wiltern concert, where the scant moments of interest were provided by her backing musicians.
After more than a decade of writing socially aware folk pop, Chapman turns her gaze inward on her new album “Let It Rain” (Elektra), with less than successful results. She either can’t or won’t dig below the surface, so even the most confessional lyrics are frustratingly nonspecific. While probably intended to be universal, the approach results in cliches –songs where buckets are kicked, men “play with fire,” and the rain will wash her away. Only the pared-down production by John Parish (best known for his work with PJ Harvey) provides surprises.
While the live sound is somewhat more conventional, it is drummer Butch (taking time off from the Eels) and guitarist Joe Gore (Tom Waits, PJ Harvey) who keep the show interesting.
With Butch behind the kit, the music has a strong rhythmic backbone, while the bald-pated Gore is mostly called on to provide washes of sound and the occasional fillip. But when he steps out — for example, in his lap steel solo on “You’re the One” — he infuses the music with a gritty intelligence. He also incites the evening’s most exciting moment: the galloping blues coda to “Give Me One Reason.”
Chapman responds to their work with some of her best, and most engaged, singing in ages. But her limitations are exposed in the encore. She is overshadowed by opening act Eastmountainsouth on Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and her take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” is one-dimensional, conveying the song’s hope but utterly lacking in the barely submerged frustration that gives the song its power.
Chapman and Eastmountainsouth play New York’s Beacon Theater July 15.
- azureblue, 06/24/03: This concert was magic. The venue was sold out completely. The audience was totally receptive to the music,the band and of course Tracy herself. The atmosphere was charged and Tracy was full of energy. The set was over 2 hours and she came back for 2 standing ovations. (My sister said 3) The entire audience got up at the end. I could feel the artist on a heart level . People’s lives were touched. What more could a concert do?It was Juneteenth, the day on which African slaves were freed in Texas in the 1800’s. Tracy related the story and sang “A Change Is Going To Come”. She is genuine and uncompromising to the spirit of what she believes in.The concert went beyond the realm of entertainment,It was uplifting and enlightening also. This heart was and is touched and inspired…
VENUE: The Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90010- USA
PROMOTER: Clear Channel Entertainment
OPENING ACT: EastMountainSouth