Bettye Lavette mesmerizing last night, living up to her billing as “emotionally charged soul maven.” At 66, she commanded the stage with such warmth, wit and verve, not to mention a vocal delivery capable of eliciting chills and tears. She would bend notes, deliver lines with weird flourishes, and generally own every word, every syllable. Captivating to watch on stage as she danced and gesticulated, performing, aware of her presence. And, when she wanted to emote, she could just rip yr heart out.
If you aren’t familiar with her repertoire, it’s about the interpretation of classic rock, lots of British invasion tunes, others as well. She’s straight up about it, saying at one point (to the mostly white boomer crowd) “These were the songs of your youth, but they were a nemesis to me. When they started to get popular in the sixties, it was the death of black music on the radio. The Supremes barely survived.” But interestingly, this project of hers has been the resurgence of her career, leading to two grammy nominated records, which she enjoyed pointing out. She played four tunes by the fab four, starting out her set with a Beatles song, “The Word” from Rubber Soul. Also, “Blackbird” from The White Album, “Isn’t It A Pity” by George Harrison from All Things Must Pass and “It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr (which was released as a single in 1971). Another one of her great quips: all these songs were written by white boys who were high, now they’re being sung by a black woman whose drunk.
Other tunes she destroyed included “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young, “Love Reign O’er Me” by Pete Townshend, “Joy” by Lucinda Williams and “Your Time To Cry” by Joe Simon. She closed with one of her own tunes, “Got My Own Hell To Raise” exiting stage right to a standing ovation while the band still played, and then re-emerged, still singing on the remote mic, then the band exiting and she closed with a bone chilling acapella song.
Speaking of the band, they were of course amazing, so restrained, never over playing, tight as hell, always subservient to what the song needed, bringing out the compositions. Guitarist played some sweet ebow on “Isn’t It A Pity” and had many moments of glory on a Fender Strat through a Twin Reverb.
She’s playing again tonight – definitely worth seeing someone who truly is a soul diva legend.