This week I caught two very different concerts put on by two very different women: Gillian Welch and Lady Sovereign.
I can't think of two more different artists to compare. The soft-spoken and sensible Gillian, with her banjo and cowboy boots; the foul-mouthed and lively Lady Sov, sporting a baggy t-shirt and cornrows.
Welch's show was on Thursday in the vibrant college town of Athens, GA, home to REM, Of Montreal, B-52s, Drive-By Truckers, and more. I drove up with Katie to see this folk singer/songwriter who, along with partner David Rawlings, has heavily influenced the Americana music scene and the works of other artists like Ryan Adams and Mark Knopfler.
I have to admit that prior to Thursday, I'd only listened to a few Gillian Welch songs. Kate and Katie both threatened to drown me in her music if I didn't right my wrongs, so I delved into "Time (The Revelator)," her third album.
During the show I realized I knew a lot more of Welch's work than I thought I did, and was struck by the honesty of her songs and how devestating they are. Hearing "Revelator" and "Wrecking Ball" felt like having my heart ripped out but wanting to immediately fall in love again. Rawlings was on hand to wow the crowd with his musicianship and intricate solos. He even played "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," a Ryan Adams song that Rawlings co-wrote. Welch told a funny story about how that song almost didn't happen because Adams didn't remember writing it (luckily for all of us, Rawlings did). For their finale, Welch and Rawlings performed "Jackson," doing justice to Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Fantastic show.
Fast forward to Lady Sovereign show at The Loft, less than 24 hours later in downtown Atlanta, just blocks from some of the hottest nightclubs around. It was suddenly in the low 40s outside, and after some trouble getting in, Leila and I made our way into the packed club. As the stage was getting set up we were entertained with some 2 Step Garage music from the UK (which British Leila pointed out is a stupid name for it; agreed). Lady Sov's band took the stage and played for a while before she got out. The guy working the decks was spinning some great stuff -- I could've watched that for awhile.
Then she arrived -- all 52 cms of her. Lady Sovereign. The first non-American female to be signed to Def Jam Records. The audience started chanting "S-O-Veeeee!" and she ripped into her set. With her speed and accent it was hard to hear what she was even saying. Sov explained that she added this tour date in (the last of her US engagements) because it was requested by her MySpace friends. Then the 20 year old introduced everyone in her band, including her personal assistant and tour manager, stopped to have a drink, and then played on everyone else's instruments. She looked like a fun chick you'd want to cause trouble with.
The crowd was crazy -- people fighting and pushing, one lady trying to get an autograph by yelling "Louise!" (Sov's given name). That sent Sov into a round of fake hurling. She made disgusting sounds into the mic and said, "Louise! Louise! Yuck!"
After about an hour, she instructed the audience to split in half down the middle. One half had to make heart shapes with their hands. The other side were instucted to put up a middle finger. Then she broke into her US hit, "Love Me or Hate Me." Everytime she sang "If you hate me, fuck you," the middle fingers were flying in the air. The finale was "Public Warning," which prompted moshing in the crowd. Suddenly the whole Sov crew took the stage and brought insanity -- roadies dangling from lighting rigs, managers throwing drumsticks into the audience, band members crowd surfing...
Think Gillian's show was my favorite because it allowed me personal space, though dancing to Sov was a welcomed release. Don't know how I'll top this pair of shows. Maybe Mastadon and Paul Simon? Ideas welcomed.