She took the stage in a red dress, with a deep v-neck, gathers through the hips and a swingy skirt which perfectly grabbed her and held her up for admiration. Her blonde curls fell saucily around her face, her wide mouth curled, and when she leveled her sultry gaze at us from across those cheekbones, we all willingly surrendered. Sing for us, Joan. Tease us and rock us, show us what you’ve got because we know you’ll dole out as much as we can handle.
What a voice this woman has–not forgetting that her label is Womanly Hips, since the power of her gravelly tone is only amplified by the way she undulates on stage. Joan is a woman of a certain age, who sings covers of Motown standards, makes Grateful Dead songs her own (“Brokedown Palace”), and refuses to relinquish Rock & Roll, neither in her covers nor in her original pieces.
I’ve seen Joan Osborne perform maybe half a dozen times, the first being as the opening act for Blues Traveler at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA in 1997. Her set was great, but what really convinced me was when she joined BT on stage and sang “Slow Change” with them (I am actually listening to the recording of the performance right now). Hearing that song interpreted by the gradual build of her vocals, I understood it in a way I hadn’t before, such is the power of her voice.
I’ve also heard her at Irving Plaza, which was pure, sexy rock–she was still singing for a younger crowd. But last night (October 25th), I was surrounded by couples in their late 40’s and early 50’s who looked like they spent their time listening to NPR, reading The New Yorker, and renewing their membership to the Met. People were drinking red wine out of actual stemmed glasses. I knew going into it that this concert would not be one of those transcendent dancing experiences, but neither did I expect to be standing next to Marrieds with bald spots, kids in college, and trousers jeans.
Of course, none of it mattered. We all were wooed by Red Dress Joan, regardless of our demographics. She opened with her cover of “How Sweet It Is,” which sashays slowly forward, eschewing the chipper excitement I usually associate with that song. She performed many of her new songs, which have a strong sense of place (that place being New York City).* Each song told a little story, usually of the joy of finding or returning to a perfect love, which she located with descriptions and names of places. I loved this lyric from “Sweeter than the Rest,” when she sings “I am crossing Brooklyn Ferry, with the clouds to my west.” And I found myself smiling with the sense of scene when she crooned at us, “In a gypsy cab / on the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise / we are going home / and the lust is burning in your eyes” (from “To the One I Love”).
For those of you not as aware of Joan’s charms, and discography, you’ll most likely recognize her radio hit “What If God Was One of Us.” This isn’t even one of my favorite songs of hers, and didn’t expect her to play it–it’s certainly not why I bought a ticket. But, play it she did, smartly tweaking its nose to keep it interesting for us (and I’m sure, for herself, too). She closed the show with my favorite “Only You Know and I Know.” Thanks, darlin’.
And then she was gone, the hem of her dress flipping flirtatiously at us as she slipped offstage, leaving us to head back out into the city, the city she’d just sung about so eloquently and seductively.
*I think her new album, Little Wild One, would make an excellent companion piece to Steve Earle’s most recent effort, Washington Square Serenade, which is just as equally anchored by New York City imagery and appreciation. In fact, I’d love to hear the two of them sing a duet; it would be a powerful blend of voice, style and energy.