Great American Music Hall
June 5, 2017
All photos by Jeff Spirer.
Valerie June arrived on stage looking like she had come down from Mendocino for the night, wearing a fringe jacket and glistening skirt, all topped by organic locs (dreadlocks) spun round her head. By the second song, her shoes were off. And somewhere around the middle of the show, the smell of weed drifted through Great American Music Hall. It could have been an after-party from Burning Man.
And when Valerie June sings, it’s as if a spell were cast over the audience. The unique quality of her voice captivates the audience. Nobody leaves early, even with a sold out show because the voice paralyzes. Nobody else sings with the clear, reedy, twangy voice that June has. Nobody else sounds a bit like Alfalfa (Little Rascals) learned to really sing, as one reviewer suggested.
June does it all. She writes the songs. She sings the songs. She plays acoustic and electric guitars. She plays the banjo. She plays the banjo ukulele. She dances around the stage and glows in front of the mic. She tells stories and chats with someone in the front row who saw her open for the late Sharon Jones at The Fillmore a few years ago.
The set began with just drummer Ryan Sawyer playing solo for a minute or so. Then the rest of her band – Andy MacLeod (guitar), Matt Marinelli (bass), and Dave Sherman (keys) – arrives and launches into “Man Done Wrong” from this years Order of Time. June picks up her banjo and picks and sings, the audience instantly in rapt attention. One of her most “rootsy” songs, it resembles a field song for cotton picking. Or weed harvesting, depending on where it’s being sung.
June followed with the eclectic mix that ties together through her voice. She performed acoustic and alone on a few numbers, including in the encore. (The encore was a mini-set in itself, with five songs.) A couple songs were close to rockers. Some had a country feel, some had a blues vibe, some were close to “folk” music. And wherever she went, the band followed.
The highlight of the main set was a raucous rendition of “Can’t Be Told” from Pushing Against a Stone. With a chunky beat and lots of electric guitar from MacLeod, and June also picking her red electric, the song is infectiously danceable. June herself flew around, dreadlocks dancing as if on fire, sometimes bent over her guitar.
When June returned for the encore, she sported a bright red flowing skirt. The first song of the encore mini-set, “Rain Dance,” came from the other end of June’s wide spectrum of songs. Closer to country and folk, with June playing acoustic guitar alone on stage, the song allows June’s voice to shine by itself and highlights the traditional side of her repertoire. June finished the night with an extended version of “Got Soul,” Great American Music Hall pulsing with the 600 dancing, stomping, and singing fans.
Lynn Cardona opened the evening, solo on the stage. Cardona, who was once June’s roommate, sang her own songs and played an acoustic guitar. The songs were often about love, gone good, gone bad, or just searching. The songs felt like they could be performed at SFJazz accompanied by just piano, or maybe a jazz band, Cardona has a Billy Holiday echo in her voice. She plays in her home base of Los Angeles with a band; when she returns, that could be an interesting contrast to this night’s performance.
Setlist: Man Done Wrong | The Hour | Love You Once Made | Shakedown | Slip Slide On By | With You | Twined & Twisted | Two Hearts | Tennessee Time | You Can’t Be Told | Workin’ Woman Blues || Rain Dance | If And | Somebody to Love | Astral Plane | Got Soul
For more information about Valerie June, see her website.
Find out more about Lynn Cardona here.