LIVE: Joan Armatrading @ The Egg, 4/12/15
Review by Steven Stock
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Early in her knockout performance at The Egg Sunday night Joan Armatrading mentioned that this was the 125th date on what’s billed as her “last major worldwide tour.” She joked about being weary and promised to try something new: a very short set. Then Armatrading proceeded to take a rapt audience through what was essentially a guided tour (complete with slideshow) of her marvelous 43-year career, betraying absolutely no hint of road fatigue.
For this tour Armatrading performed solo but with a couple of technical enhancements. A mid-sized video screen hung center-stage, and while she sang “City Girl” from her 1972 debut, stock footage of highways and skyscrapers were projected, later overlaid with new-agey washes of colors and patterns. To my mind the videos were neither compelling nor distracting, but if you ask a contemporary audience to put away their damn cellphones it’s probably wise to provide a substitute pacifier of some sort. The other enhancement was musical: on a few songs, Armatrading deployed pre-recorded backing tapes of synth chords. While the tapes helped highlight Armatrading’s harmonic sophistication, like the videos they weren’t really needed.
Armatrading is equally adept at both keyboards and guitar, and the way she moved back and forth between the two helped the show’s variety and pacing. An early highlight was a propulsive version of “Mama Mercy” that sounded like a distant cousin of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” The subsequent “My Baby’s Gone,” from 2007’s excellent Into the Blues, showcased her prowess as a blues guitarist.
Following “Down to Zero,” Armatrading narrated a brief slideshow illustrating some of the highlights of her career, including a private meeting with Nelson Mandela. Three great performances followed: “Steppin’ Out,” with its tricky acoustic guitar picking, “Kissin’ and a Huggin’,” which benefitted from a jazz-inflected solo that would’ve made Django Reinhardt proud, and finally the evening’s highlight, a beautiful rendition of “The Weakness in Me.”
Having enjoyed the stripped-down arrangements Armatrading favored for most of the evening. I found the pre-taped backing keyboards on “Love and Affection” a little cheesy, but to judge by the rapturous standing ovation she received afterwards nary a soul in the packed-to-the-rafters Egg agreed.
The stretch run again served to highlight just how versatile a performer Armatrading is. Moving effortlessly from the reggae of “Rosie” to the power-pop of “Drop the Pilot” to the heavy-metal sturm und drang of “Me Myself I,” Armatrading closed her bravura show with a delicate version of “Willow.” The night was so blessed that the audience sing-along actually sounded good – I did my part by remaining silent.