I’ve long carried a torch for exceptional female vocalists, and most of my favorites have come out of the UK. True songstresses like Moyet and Annie Lennox and Lisa Stansfield and Julia Fordham and the lovely new Adele who know how to wrap disciplined pipes around each musical note, stylists who understand the nuance of a song. Moyet is perhaps the epitome of such vocal ability, with a lush voice that at times seems to erupt from the singer’s throat like a choral volcano. Even when her voice takes on a softer verse or a more delicate refrain, there is an underlying power – like the hum of an electric current – that reverberates in the ears and resonates in the soul. Alternately bluesy, brassy, smoky, and velvety, Moyet’s voice is an instrument of precision and restraint, even when she’s letting it off the leash a bit to grit and growl. Adding to the charm are her distinctive vocal inflections and decidedly British pronunciations of certain words that add an almost literary texture to her songs, like the musical equivalent of a Merchant Ivory period film.
The venue – the Capital One Bank Theater in Westbury here on Long Island – was (sadly and inexplicably) only half sold (and this was with the concert being held in the half-round). When Alison came out she made a few well-received humorous remarks about how if there were just a few more people it'd be almost enough for a concert. Lots of laughter from the audience. Small audience size notwithstanding, the eager crowd more than compensated for the empty seats with its unbridled enthusiasm. Seems that we all learned our lesson from message board reports from previous stops on the tour and there were no shouts for Invisible, Moyet’s highest charting US hit. I did risk shouting out during a quiet moment "Steal Me Blind, Alison!” which was promptly followed by two cries from the audience behind me — one for Ode to Boy, the other for Honey for the Bees. Alison looked over and playfully said "You want me to steal you blind? Reach inside your pocket!" She then mentioned that the tour had been put together in a few mere weeks and that the band couldn't possibly have been expected to learn her entire catalog. After her next song, she returned to the topic and said, laughing, something to the affect of having been apologetically thinking throughout the song about how she'd just reprimanded us. Lots of audience laughter. At another point in the show when someone again shouted out a song request, she asked us if we thought this was karaoke night. More laughter. Quite the easy rapport she has with an audience.
Alison was in top form — even with a slight cold that had her sipping chamomile tea (and a convenient drop of brandy from time to time) onstage. She's simply amazing and even better than I remember her from the ’91 quasi-concert I told you about. Her set list included a smattering of tunes from her new album and back catalog, with the popular Ordinary Girl from Raindancing added after fans coaxed a few bars out of the singer at the NYC show a few nights earlier (and perhaps at the expense of her cover of Billie Holiday’s That ‘Ole Devil Called Love which was MIA for this show). Standouts for me were the jazzy version of All Cried Out, hearing an older hit or two for the first time live like Love Resurrection and a beautifully re-arranged Is This Love?, This House and One More Time, both of which are guaranteed to raise gooseflesh (if they don't, check your pulse because you're dead, honey!), Almost Blue and Find Me, both of which were just lovely, the insinuating groves of Footsteps and Hoodoo (she wails on the latter and sways those marvelous hips on both!), three Yazz tracks (Don't Go, Only You, and Situation), which brought back nostalgic fun for those not lucky enough to catch her tour with former Yazoo bandmate Vince Clarke this past summer, a passionate cover of Melanie Safka’s Momma Momma that threatened to bring the roof down, and a rousing encore of Whispering Your Name. Surprisingly, my favorite performance of the entire night came from a reworked version of a song that I'd never before characterized as one of my "favorites," per se: Ski. Sheer brilliance in the way she sang that. There are a few others scattered in there – songs like Wishing You Were Here, Dorothy, Can't Say It Like I Mean It, Fire, and You Don’t Have to Go – and my lack of comment is in no way a snub on either the songs’ inclusion in the set list or a slight against Alison’s flawless delivery. (It’s just that I know my loyal readers — and I’m moments away from eye rolls that the fanboy’s at it again!)
Speaking of the fanboys, I had the pleasure of meeting several other diehard Moyet fans outside the theater after the 1½ hour show. Folks like Meredith and her lovely mother (also fellow Julia Fordham fans) and Dennis (a fine gent who we discovered was also there that long-ago night at the Mulcahy’s show) and the utterly delightful "other Allison," with whom Alison proper was quite taken. (Their rapport is like that of two old school chums. There was a whole story that involved a wheelchair and front row seats that had us – and Alison – in stitches!) Our meager crowd waited for Alison outside the artist entrance of the venue. True to form, she appeared and spent a solid half hour or more signing everything (and I do mean everything) that was placed in front of her, posing for pictures, giving endless hugs, and chatting up a storm. At one point, it almost seemed like it would have been more polite of us to have invited her out for coffee instead of having her stand around in the chill. Alison was so lovely and gracious, and seemed genuinely appreciative that we had come to the show. Having met and interviewed numerous celebs over the years, I can honestly say that Moyet is the quintessence of fan friendliness. And, yes, in addition to getting my CD covers of Voice, Raindancing, Hoodoo, Hometime, and Alf signed, and my program signed (lovely tour books, BTW), and a poster from the Alf days that I've kept meticulously rolled in a tube and in pristine condition for the last 24 years until I could get her to sign it, I got what I came really hoping for:
Short postscript to this blog...had the opportunity to catch a new recording artist named Brendan James, a talented singer/songwriter who's got the opening slot on Moyet's tour. Fantastic in his own right, James reminded me of a cross between John Mayer and the sorely underrated Casey Stratton. He did a tight, albeit short, set that showcased thoughtful, introspective songs from his debut CD The Day is Brave. Flanked only by an amazing drummer/percussionist named Chris Higginbottom, James impressed with Early April Morning, The Other Side and Green, then amazed with Hero's Song, a tribute to our troops that's deeply affecting and quite haunting. Took some time during the intermission to meet the unassuming and immediately likeable James (unfortunately, ran out of time to give deserved props to Higginbottom who was fielding off a line of his own) and to buy the CD. Check him out - this guy's the real deal and I suspect we'll be hearing about big things to come for him. You can visit him and check out samples of his music on MySpace. Nothing nicer than discovering a new talent when and where you least expect it! Here's a little introduction to this promising up-and-coming artist: