At the door we were asked to show the contents of our bags. Signs warned that all recording devices were banned for the performance. I opened my bag and showed the pair of binoculars on top and somehow forgot to mention the digital camera that lay underneath. As it turned out I never snapped any pictures anyway since my digital camera doesn't work well without a flash.
Once inside, we wandered inside to get an overview of the seating situation. The original plan was for me to check out the floor section and Tina to scout the balcony. We both had our cell phones and we could call each other and report our results. All that was abandoned when we saw that relatively few people had arrived and there were still prime seats remaining on the floor. We ended up about ten rows back from the stage in the center section near the right aisle.
While we waited we talked and watched people. We noted there were an inordinate number of lesbians there and Tina wondered why Michelle had such a big lesbian following. There were quite a few people reading books to spend the time. Old blues and soul music played on the PA as Bart Bull, Michelle's husband, scurried about the stage preparing for the performance.
The onstage setup was simple. A single microphone stood front and center. A pair of electric guitars rested in their stands directly behind the microphone where one would normally find the drums. One guitar was the white guitar that appears on the cover of Kind Hearted Woman. To the left of the guitars was an old Rhodes electric organ with a small synthesizer stacked on top. To the right was a guitar amp with a bottle of water waiting to refresh.
At a couple minutes before eight, a woman from KINK 102 that I presumed to be a DJ came out to thank us and the promoters. She also admonished us that the live performance is so special that capturing it is almost impossible ‹ so don't even try. She even went on to suggest that if anybody had a video camera, tape recorder or camera that now would be a really good time to take it back to the car. People giggled nervously. I don't know if that is standard operating procedure at the Aladdin, but when I was there to see Jello Biafra, there were no such warnings. Of course, Jello didn't have some goofball DJ introducing him, either.
After the introduction Michelle came out by herself dressed in a silver Italian suit (she mentioned it was Italian later) and wearing silverish purple tresses. It was cut in a kind of Dorothy Hamill bob that looked pretty good on her. Just the same it was a little weird looking given the simplicity and shortness of her hair in the past. Later I noticed that she wore white cowboy boots.
She thanked us for the applause and quickly retrieved the other guitar which I think was sort of offwhite or light yellow with white trim. She talked for a little bit about being rusty and hoping that we can forgive her that. She said something about getting the early ones over with early and launched into "Anchorage". She seemed a little unsure of herself as she played arpeggios lightly on the electric guitar, but she sang strongly and with emotion. When she got to the part where Leroy says, "Keep on rockin'", she really wails it and remarks that "some things get better with age."
Next came "Anchorage" featuring some mouthed monkey noises after "We'll raise them on tiger's milk and green bananas"followed by "Come A Long Way', one of my favorite songs. Unfortunately, I don't think it translates well to a solo song and I really felt the lack of a band during certain parts like "So I shimmied up Wilshire like a little silkworm". I did, however, smile when she sang of "the sweet green icing of MacArthur Park". Because of semirecent discussions of this song on the Texas Campfire mailing list, I half expected to hear some more explanation of the song, which she is wont to do during many of her songs. However, on this night the only explanation would come during the next song.
"Graffiti Limbo" is undoubtedly a staple in Shocked's show and she played it with great feeling and conviction on this night. When the bridge came where she explains what the song is about, she mentioned that she wrote the song in '83 (or was it '82?) which I had not known before. As has been the case on live recordings that I'd previously heard, she gave further details about the Michael Stewart case that did not make it on to the record and explained how justice really is blind.
At some point during these opening songs, Michelle brought out a huge wad of beads to "show us where we've come from." She told us about people humiliating themselves and begging to get beads thrown to them and then demonstrated her humiliating begging technique. While she was telling us she lofted several strands into the audience much to everyone's delight. After only a few strands, she recruited someone sitting in the front row to do the tossing while she told us about Mardi Gras. The volunteer was considerably less adept at the task and had a tendency to throw line drives rather than fly balls. In fact, the first strand that he threw caused many people in the audience to duck and it ended up whizzing right past Tina's head.
While this guy pitched beads into the audience, Michelle told us a story about the Zulu Warriors and where they originated and what they were about. She sort of danced around the subject quite a bit, but when she revisited it later that night, it became clear that she was quite upset about the situation. Evidently a friend of hers was wearing some Zulu Warrior beads at Mardi Gras and somebody walked up to him and tore them off his neck saying, "You are no Zulu Warrior." Her friend is white and the tearor was black. She seemed unsure of how to say it delicately, but the message was, "You shouldn't have to be black to be a Zulu Warrior. You are a Zulu Warrior in your heart."She ended the schtick (her description) by tossing some Zulu Warrior beads into the audience followed by the remainder of the other beads all at once.
After introducing a keyboard player named Sondra, she did a song about having the blues. It was not one I had heard before, but not introduced as "new" so I assume it's on one of the selfreleased albums. After that she said it was time to try some newer songs and launched into a trio of three songs that most in the audience had never heard. The first was called "I Know What You Need" and, as it's title might imply, was sort of an empathetic love song. "Forgive To Forget" from her selfproduced, nolabel album Good News, proclaimed the virtues of letting go and not holding on to the past. During this song she encouraged the crowd to sing along with the chorus, but because nobody really knew the song, the singing was quiet and reserved.
"Go In Peace, So In Love" was also beautiful and quiet and spoke of the virtue of a peaceful life, a theme that seems to be reoccurring for Michelle in the newer material. Much like "Come A Long Way" and "Anchorage", it's one of those songs that makes you smile at the simple but beautiful moments that life brings. Incidentally, the "so" in the title is synonymous with "therefore" and not "very", a semantic distinction that I think is important.
Throughout the night Michelle kept a steady patter going in between songs. Unfortunately, I did not keep notes on that aspect (Tina kept saying "It's so bright!" when I would turn on my Newton to write down the last two songs), so I can only insert conversations approximately where I remember them occurring. One such conversation occurred early into the performance. At first I didn't know what she was talking about because, once again, she was kind of skating around what she wanted to say which I believe is this: she appreciates and is thankful for the love that she and her audience can share during a performance but she's afraid "they" (i.e. outsiders) will not understand it and will call it a cult. The discussion went further into the merits of love, etc. but that was the gist of it, I think.
The next song she played, "Fever Breaks", benefited greatly from the sparse instrumentation of the night. She introduced the following song by telling us that she had written it once and thought it to be too chipper so she rewrote it. "No Wonder", from the aforementioned Good News album, proved to be as she described especially since she sang the lyrics so they sounded even more syruppy.
The next song proved to be one of the highlights of the evening but first Michelle told us about a little town in Mexico that her and her husband, Bart, like to visit occasionally. She told us of how they went there to celebrate New Year's Eve but found out that everybody in Mexico celebrates the New Year at home with their family and friends. So they went to a bar to get snockered but everyone left before midnight and they were there by themselves by 11:00 so they just went home and went to bed.
The song was called "La Cantina El Gato Negro", which translates to the Black Cat Cantina but it doesn't sound as good in English. Anyway, she would sing the chorus with a Spanish flurry and sort of a flamenco dancer pose. It was fun and funny. I look forward to an album with this song. Definitely a change of style for her.
At one point during the evening she told us about how Michael Jordan adapted to his loss of "air" as he got older by improving other parts of his game which she seemed to draw inspiration from. As if to demonstrate her own adaptibility, later she told us that she was teaching herself to play lead guitar. "It's not that hard, it turns out." She demonstrated her newfound ability during an instrumental break in "Fog Town" with an extended jam that morphed into what I believe was a 70s song about the Monkey & the Weasel, after an extended jam on that song, she returned to play the final verse and chorus for "Fog Town".
All nightshe kept joking about the large Mag Light that she had sitting next to her microphone stand. Allegedly it is there to remind her to "lighten up." At this particular moment she picked it up and started goofing around with shining it on her face. She asked to have the stagelights dimmed so that the flash light was the only light on stage. She held the flashlight under her chin like you do when you're telling scary stories around the campfire and read a poem called "The Seed Market." She said she did not write it while confiding that she was as talented as Jewel in that aspect. The poem was serious but the moment was zany. Tina thought the whole thing to be goofy and boring. I liked it.
After it was done she said that she liked doing covers and why don't we do another cover? "The L & M Don't Stop Here Anymore" was another song that benefitted greatly from the sparse arrangement although I must admit that I kept hearing the slide guitar part in my head. Probably during this song a female fan ran up the aisle and left a postcard on the stage. Michelle directed the bead gentleman from earlier to throw it into the audience and then remarked that if it was a postcard that the fan should find her address and mail it to her ‹ she was kind of busy right now.
I found the exchange interesting and somewhat cold. It reminded me of when I had seen her several years later at an instore. As she was walking off the stage to go sign autographs, I handed her an envelope with a letter inside that I had written. Several minutes later a gentleman approached me and politely informed me that Michelle was averse to such things having been the recipient of subpoenas before. At the time I bought it but now I'm not so sure.
Eventually all things must come to an end and so it was with the purple wig that Michelle wore. She tore it off while remarking how ridiculous it was and the suit jacket followed shortly after along with some comments about how nice of a suit it really was. Feeling unrestrained she launched into a spirited rendition of "If Love Was A Train", a song that I've always considered one of the dirtiest and sly songs I know. After it was done Michelle announced that she thought it would be better if she quit while she was ahead, took a bow with Sondra and headed offstage. The crowd stood and applauded for several minutes screaming their approval and yelling for an encore.
When Michelle came back out and redonned her guitar, people began yelling out requests. At the point when the crowd was quiet and Michelle was not talking yet, I yelled out "Prodigal Daughter" as loud as I could. Several other people yelled, "Yeah! Prodigal Daughter!" She said that those requests sounded like a good idea and proceeded to play the opening for "Prodigal Daughter" somewhat haltingly. She sang the first verse and commented that it did not sound right. She retrieved a capo from the top of her amplifier and attached it at about the third fret. She played a few chords and picked it up at the second verse. The whole song was done very offhand and was clearly not one she had played for awhile. Nevertheless the audience joined in to sing the "CottonEyed Joe" chorus several times. It felt very communal and intimate.
That feeling lingered for one more song as we sang with her on the chorus to "The Secret To A Long Life". At the end of the song, she did a call and response thing with the chorus and then asked us to wave our hands in the air when we sang the "Ohhhhhhh" part. We did and she thanked us right before declaring "It's a cult!"
Next she told us that she was going to play one that she was working with "last night". It was slow and quiet and I wrote down the title as "Just The Way Things Go". It was a Zen moment as the entire crowd sat in rapt attention. After it was over she again said she had better quit while she was ahead. She retrieved Sondra from backstage and they bowed again and left. The house lights came up a few seconds later.
On the way home we both raved about the night's performance. At one point I remarked how lucky I felt to be able to see such a high quality artist at such a small venue (the Aladdin seats well under 1000). Very lucky.