Monday, October 8, 2012

Concert Report: Esperanza Spalding

Who:  Radio Music Society (but let's face it:  Everyone was there to see Esperanza Spalding)
Where:  Murat Theater*, Indianapolis, Indiana
When:  6 October 2012, 7:30 PM
Length of Show:  1 hour, 50 minutes (including encore)
Notes:  The Radio Music Society consists of Esperanza Spalding on bass and lead vocals, an 8-piece horn section, a drummer, guitarist and keyboard player.  You can learn more about the band here.

Impressions, in list form:

  • Let's get the one negative from this show out of the way:  to paraphrase the Jesus, you pull out your cell phone and use the flash, I will put it up your ass and press the shutter button until the memory card is full.  Look, I know that we've passed the point of no return and there will be cell phone photography no matter where you go.  I can accept it.  I don't like it, but that's the world in which we live.   But holy crap, judging from the flashes/glowing cell phone screens, you would've thought that there was a press conference going on.  I remember once seeing Jeff Tweedy admonish someone from the stage for the same thing by saying:  "Put your cell phone away.  This next song is great.  You're going to want to be here for it."  Great fucking advice. 
  • This wasn't so much a concert as a performance, meaning there was a lot more to this show than music.  There were bits of acting between songs, the singing of story lines & dialogue (similar to an opera), and even poetry.  Normally, if someone described a show like that to me, I'd say "wow I bet that sucks".  I'd prefer to see an artist burning through a set list rather than to hear them act/recite poetry between songs.  But they were very entertaining and thought provoking.  They pulled it off nicely.
  • It's really hard to explain, but I'll put it to you this way:  on at least two different occasions when soloing, Spalding appeared to be having an outer body experience.  She just wasn't there.  To me, she looked like she had achieved the perfect state of meditation wherein her mind was free of conscious thought and she was fully present in the moment.  It was something to see - she was totally lost in her solos.  You sometimes hear critics praising an artist by saying "their instruments is an extension of a performer's body", and this is definitely true of her.  I've never seen anyone as nimble and as comfortable on a bass (both upright and electric) as she is.
  • I have mixed feelings on jazz vocalists.  Some I like (Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Turner, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker), but most I can do without.  That being said, Esperanza Spalding is an immensely under rated jazz vocalist.  She sang with great range, power, finesse and feeling; and she sang on every tune.  She literally didn't break a sweat doing this and her voice was not fatigued in the slightest.  I must confess I wanted her to bust off into 10 minute, vocal free jams with the band; but I'd be lying if I said I was unimpressed with her vocals.  I'll come out and admit I'm really jealous of the skillz this woman has.  She could earn a decent living as a vocalist or bassist; she does both very very well.
  • There was a drum solo at the end.  As a general rule, I loathe drum solos.  But Lyndon Rochelle does it right.  What he did:  variations on the groove that had already been established.  What he did not do:  lightening fast fills/acrobatics on every drum and cymbal within 10 feet of him.  The size of his kit was quite modest already; his solo was mainly executed on his snare (rim shots mostly), his high hat, bass drum and one tom drum. The timings he did were, lacking better terminology, fucking wacky.  If I can find a clip of him doing a similar type solo, I'll post it.  It was a damn clinic.
  • E.S. was able to get this mean kinda 70s soul/funk/70s porno music sound from her Jazz bass.  It was soooo bad ass.  This is primarily due to the pickups on her Jazz bass.  (Couldn't tell for sure if it was fretless or not.)  But from the back of the room, I could tell she was using flatwound strings on her bass - you could tell by how the light caught the strings.  I would've bet my next paycheck on it.  (Sure enough, she does use flat wounds.)  I've never even considered flat wounds on my electric.  But now I'm wondering if I can at least approximate her sound by throwing a set on my '77 Sting Ray.  It won't sound as bad ass since Jazz basses have passive electronics, but if it gives my bass more of the balls** hers has, Imma go for it.  I was really coveting her tone a lot.
  • Radio Music Society, like just about all jazz, is meant to be seen live.  I saw Esperanza Spalding perform with a combo on Austin City Limits*** a few years ago and loved it.  But this blows away anything I've seen on TV or You Tube.  There is a groove, a give and take that can't be captured on camera.  You can say that about some rock shows, but my sense is that you can say this for every RMS show.
  • The encore was just ES and her upright bass.  I think she just made it up on the spot.  Holy crap.  It was great.
Good stuff.  Like the Bad Plus, I'm going to see her every time she comes to town.  

* - Sorry, not going to call it "Old National Center" or whatever the fuck corporate branding they've given it now.

** - Probably a bad choice of words, I already know.

*** - She'll be appearing on Austin City Limits again in December!  Mark your calendars.

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