“I don’t recommend taking naps in the van before a show,” quipped Archer Records recording artist Amy LaVere early in the Thursday evening show downstairs at Valentine’s. Though she may have felt a bit groggy, LaVere’s singing and upright bass playing were vibrant as she led her band through a dozen songs that showed tremendous imagination and taste. She and her extremely talented band had the small but fervent crowd mesmerized from the word go.
Opening with perhaps her best known song, “Killing Him” from the Jim Dickinson-produced 2007 album “Anchors and Anvils,” LaVere established that the next hour and a half was going to be a fun immersion into the darkness and quirkiness of the world. “Washing Machine” cranked out the Memphis funk; Doug Cousar’s bugged-out guitar and Krista Wroten-Combest’s swaggering violin answered and swirled around a tale of how “maybe one day it’ll all work out. “Never Been Sadder” from 2005’s “This World Is Not My Home” was an upbeat, sad song, sounding like a lost Gypsy folk song set to a Johnny Cash beat set by drummer Shawn Zorn.
Much like Neko Case and Emmylou Harris, LaVere loves a good murder ballad, and “Red Banks” from the superb new release “Stranger Me,” delivered, mixing an Appalachian blues lyric to an meancing riff that brought to mind early Funkadelic. Also featured from the new album were the original title cut and Jimbo Mathus’s “Lucky Boy,” each showing off LaVere’s soulful singing and deft bass lines. Clearly raised on an eclectic array of music, LaVere and company had a blast romping on Captain Beefheart’s mercurial “Candle Mambo,” a fine lead transition to her own “Damn Love Song,” a song with caustic wit about the consequences of romance in free fall.
Energized, the band launched into a perfect cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” with LaVere smiling as Cousar channelled some Mick Ronson tones from his Telecaster and Wroten-Combest, and Zorn carved up space and time. The traditional “Railroad Boy” from the 2009 “Died of Love” married Memphis soul with a bit of the Ventures; raising her glass “to achievement!”, LaVere ruminated in “Pointless Drinking” wryly examined a time of “keeping my healthy dose of resentment.” Closing out the set was a raucously fun, new song, “You Can’t Keep Me.” The image of LaVere brushing her curls from her face with one hand while fretting the bass with the other is one no one in the audience will ever forget.
After the show, LaVere and her band greeted fans new and old for well over an hour before packing up for a trip to NYC. If you missed this vivacious singer-songwriter from Memphis, you have only yourself to blame. She is the real deal.
Review by Fred Rudofsky
Julia Zave’s photograph at Metroland
AMY LaVERE SET LIST
Never Been Sadder
Damn Love Song
Railroad Boy (Died of Love)
You Can’t Keep Me