Joan Armatrading, World Financial Center, New York, June 12, 2007

Joan Armatrading’s voice was almost always in the background, floating out of someone’s room in my college dorm (mid-80s, women’s college – scene set. done)

I always thought it was a great voice – kinda wide and deep and expressive, even if people say she’s not a good singer. “Drop the Pilot” is such a great song – if you heard it, I’ll bet you’d know it, even if you think you don’t.

Joan played Tuesday night at the River to River Festival, an outdoor free show, at the World Financial Center. Next to the big boat basin, next to the bizarre Cleveland-esque Winter Garden mall. Whatever! The place was packed come 7pm, and not with an after-work Financial Center crowd.

It POURED rain at 7pm. The audience — pairs of contented matrons who had probably listened to Joan in their 80s dorms, lots and lots of families with kids, and quite a few old counterculture-y guys, was surprisingly packed with 20-somethings, too, both girls and guys. All waited pretty good-naturedly for the rain to end, which it did just at 7:30.

Touring to support her new record “Into the Blues,” Joan didn’t say much for the first four songs – which weren’t that great. (And um, neither was her haircut. Go back to natural! ahem.) Just before the fourth song, she finally warmed up a bit to the audience, reaching out w/that great British accent, revealing those songs were from the new album, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues charts. The fourth tune, the album’s eponymous single, “into the Blues,” was the first song I liked.

Everything loosened up from there – her keyboard player, the drummer and sax guy (who played nearly the entire show with his mouth gaping open very oddly – was he catching flies? thirsty? highly disconcerting), and the bassist, armed with several excellent basses, one of which consisted entirely of a neck with strings and nothing else.) And the music.

“Love and Affection” was 12-string and sax (hard to go wrong there); the audience sang along (faltering a bit) with “All the Way from America,” and Joan finally got into it, rolling out that big expressive voice at last and joyfully trying to get in as many songs as possible. (alas, the concert had to end on time – hey, there’s a WFC curfew! who knew.) She packed in “(I Love It When You) Call Me Names” and “Me Myself I.”

She finally got the nod to do an encore, asking the audience to vote for either “Willow” (too slow for me, never a fave) or the perennial fave “Drop the Pilot” – an early MTV hit, my companion recalled.

They voted for “Willow”; she did both, ending up with a bang. Thank goodness I never saw that MTV video. The finale was a good one to remember.

The set list, if you wanna know:

1. (didn’t know it)
2. A Woman in Love
3. Show Some Emotion
4. Something’s Gotta Blow
5. Into the Blues
6. Tall in the Saddle
7. Love and Affection (12-string and sax)
8. All the Way from America (audience sing-along
9. My Baby’s Gone (Come Back Baby) (slide)
10. You Rope You Tie Me
11. Call Me Names (I Love It When)
12. Me Myself I

13. Willow
14. Drop the Pilot

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