Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 29th February

Bruno Mars’ Bass Player, The BRITs
Unassumingly, the coolest man to take the stage on the night, and by a country mile. Bruno Mars—nice Little Willie John look and fine pompadour—played the Wonder-ish Just The Way You Are, and his bassman rose to the challenge. Digging the show, hands bopping over the fretboard like Jamerson re-incarnated, Jamareo Artis didn’t put a beat or a note wrong, even when double-stepping the dance moves. The final high flourish as the song ended was the sublime icing on the cake, sliding his right hand down the fretboard to dampen the last note, before hooking his thumb jauntily in his hip pocket.

Whitney Houston at the BRITs
Watching the jarringly brusque tribute, my mind flashed back to an earlier time: in 1987, in a Park Lane hotel ballroom, Whitney sang her hit du jour, How Will I Know, dancing slightly awkwardly to a backing track on a stage more suited to an army base than an awards show. We were ten yards away, pushing bad food around our plates, and could hear Whitney acoustically, as well as through the PA. She gave it her all, and as the pre-record started to fade, was so into the performance that she continued for a good fifteen seconds, not backing off her volume at all. Jaws hit the table as the most thrilling sound vaulted over us. For those fifteen seconds, she was a blissful and transported teenager, singing in the Lord’s House. In that fakest of environments—an awards show—something real.

Weird iPod Synchronicity Pt1: Feb 28th, Park Lane, London
On the bus going up Park Lane, approaching Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park yesterday morning. iPod on random. A Dylan track, from a bootleg I haven’t even bothered listening to (it comes from a period I don’t care for, around the time of Under The Red Sky). It’s a shuffle, pretty unmixed sounding, with what sounds like Randy Jackson’s rubbery bass lines bubbling along*. “One time in London I’d gone out for a walk/At the place called Hyde Park, where people talk/Get up on a platform and they tell their point of view/To anyone who’s there, that’s who they’re talkin’ to/There was a man on a platform, talking to some folks, about TV being evil, he wasn’t telling jokes…” Leaving aside the obviously low, McGonagall-esque quality of these lines—possibly some of the worst Bob’s ever penned—How strange is that?

*I remember Randy Jackson saying they were pretty odd sessions. Don Was would line-up different bands of players each time Dylan came to the studio. No-one had the first clue what they were doing. It’s a production technique, I guess…

Bonnie Raitt: Thank You
That’s the song Thank You, from early in her career, although it’s entirely appropriate to thank Bonnie for one of American music’s most satisfying careers. Justin Vernon draw attention last year to her sublime I Can’t Make You Love Me, but there’s so much in Bonnie’s past that’s fine, just waiting for rediscovery. I’m just going to draw attention to a winning radio airshot: The Lost Broadcast: Philadelphia 1972. [Through some grey European law loophole Amazon are selling CD’s of US radio broadcasts from Dylan, Waits and Cohen, among others]. Bonnie introduces it thus: “This is a tune—for all you unseen people out there I’m just going to move to the piano to show how versatile I am—haven’t played a piano for months now, didn’t play it before that since I was a little kid, pubescing in Los Angeles. Playing Dick Dale runs [runs finger down keyboard]—Wipeout! Anyway, this is a tune I wrote over the summer. Ready?”

It’s not a perfect song, part Jackson Brown, part Eric Kaz, a little Philly soul (the taping took place at the legendary Sigma Sound studios), even some Toussaint in the piano melody, but this performance, with Freebo on bass and TJ Tindall on slithery, chiming guitar is a little gem. As she glides her beautiful voice over the phrase “I was all you’d ever need,” hear one of the great American voices—unforced, unglitzy, true.

The Adele Gap
Phrase meaning: the difference between a performer’s singing and speaking voices. Example: “there is no Adele Gap in the case of Leonard Cohen.” See TIME magazine mishearing of Adele Grammy exclamation “Mum! Girl done good!” below.

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