Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Best known as a protest singer from the long-ago golden age of folk music, Buffy Sainte-Marie remains as outspoken as ever. And just as potent. She certainly hasn’t lost her outrage or her righteous indignation over a wide variety of ongoing social and political injustices. And it is indeed a sad state of affairs that her vintage protest songs still sound as relevant and powerful as they did nearly five decades ago.
Backed by a versatile, three-piece Manitoba rock band decked out in black leather and tattoos, Sainte-Marie – a Canadian Cree – roared into the Eighth Step at Proctors in Schenectady last weekend for what was surely the rockingest show that the Step has hosted in its 44-year history. She was at her most powerful when she was spitting out defiant songs about the plight of Native Americans on “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and Floyd Red Crow Westerman’s potent “Relocation Blues,” which she sang a cappella, accompanying herself only by tapping drum patterns out on her microphone.
Along the way she also railed against corporate greed (“No No Keshagesh”), the destruction of the environment (“The Priests of the Golden Bull”), the abuse of drugs (“Cod’ine”) and war (her classic “Universal Soldier,” which she pointedly introduced as a song about “individual responsibility for the world we live in”).
But the evening wasn’t just about her old songs, either. In fact, some of her best performances – and the hardest-rocking numbers – of the night were new songs, most notably “Cho Cho Fire,” a hot-wired fusion of thundering tribal rhythms from drummer Michel Lee J Bruyere and bassist Lee Constant melded with guitarist Jesse Green’s fuzzed-out punk-metal power chords – while 70-year-old Sainte-Marie danced around the stage with all of the tireless energy and undeniable sexiness of Tina Turner.
But don’t think for a single moment that Sainte-Marie is simply a protest singer. With her instantly recognizable vibrato, she served up a marvelous solo rendition of the traditional “Cripple Creek,” accompanying herself on mouthbow. Her voice is still remarkably supple, and she put it to good use on a number of straight-up love ballads as well, including her oft-covered “Until It’s Time For You to Go,” “Still This Love Goes On” and her Academy Award-winning “Up Where We Belong” from the soundtrack of “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Yeah, she wrote that one, too.
In fact, her stylistic range was simply astonishing. In addition to passionate protest songs, distortion-driven rockers and tender love ballads, she embraced woozy honky-tonk twang (“I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again”), a slice of seriously revved-up rockabilly (“Blue Sunday”) and, best of all, a hushed, hypnotic float through “Little Wheel Spin and Spin,” which seemed to owe a bigger debt to Brian Eno than to any of Sainte-Marie’s ’60s folk compatriates.
Buffy Sainte-Marie is a history teacher as much as she is one of the great singer-songwriters of our generation. But she’s not stuck in the past. In fact, she’s got her eyes sharply focused on the future.
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Over the course of her two-hour set, Sainte-Marie and her full band touched on music from throughout her six-decade career, going from soft, whispered folk ballads to punk rock fury at the drop of a hat. For the packed crowd, it was an unpredictable musical roller coaster that never once let up in intensity, even during the most contemplative moments… Initially, the rockers felt a bit too muted, as if the sound men were afraid of cranking the guitars for a folk crowd. The chugging riffs of “No No Keshagesh” were buried under Bruyere’s thudding drums. But as the set progressed, the levels got much better — the straight-up groove rock of ‘Generation,’ the scintillating ‘Priests of the Golden Bull’ and the anthemic set closer ‘Starwalker’ all achieved a big sound, without the deafening roar of an arena rock show.”
BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE SET LIST
The Pineywood Hills
Cho Cho Fire
Still This Love Goes On
Darlin’ Don’t Cry
Relocation Blues (Floyd Red Crow Westerman)
Up Where We Belong
No No Keshagesh
I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again
Until It’s Time for You to Go
The Big Ones Get Away
Look at the Facts
Little Wheel Spin and Spin
The Priests of the Golden Bull
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
He’s an Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo