Shemekia Copeland: New York, NY, January 18, 2013
New York, NY
January 18, 2013
Shemekia Copeland has a big voice. She sings with a passion and can fill a room with her beautiful tones without the benefit of amplification. Touring behind 33 1/3 (Telarc, 2012), Copeland did just that during her early show at New York's sold-out Iridium nightclub by strolling between the tables while singing an impassioned version of her father's (the late blues guitarist Johnny "Clyde" Copeland) "Ghetto Child." As she walked through the crowd an older woman said, "Sing the song baby." Copeland stopped, smiled and simply said, "Hey, mama!" With that the audience erupted in applause and she continued her traverse through the crowd and was again back at center stage when she finished the song.
The high-energy performance that led up to that point began with Buddy and Julie Miller's swamp blues on "Dirty Water," the funky "Givin' Up You" from The Soul Truth (Alligator Records, 2005), the socially conscious ode to the American dream "Lemon Pie," from 33 1/3, which she introduced by stating that she "spent all of my lunch money on vinyl records. I know what you're thinking'oh no you didn't.' Well I did. I just got guys to buy my lunch. So I guess you could say that this CD is a tribute to the old albums that I grew up with. It's called 33 1/3 and so am I."
During Copeland's slow-burning Etta James-like vocals on JJ Grey's "A Woman," the audience was so still and that it could best be described in idiomatic terms: you could have heard a pin drop. Copeland then changed both the tempo and the mood with "Big Lovin' Woman," from her 1998 debut, Turn The Heat Up (Alligator Records). Next up was the twelve-bar blues of "Ain't Gonna Be Your Tattoo," a tale about a woman getting out of an abusive relationship, on which Copeland appeared to be channeling Billie Holiday.
The midpoint of the stellar blues, R&B, funk and gospel/soul performance featured the rave-up "Pie In The Sky" from 2002's Talking to Strangers (Alligator Records), followed by the funk-rocker "Born A Penny" from Copeland's 2009 Telarc debut, Never Going Back. It was at this point that the singer dedicated "Ghetto Child" to her father, starting the song and beginning her tour through the club. After returning to the stage Copeland sang "Mississippi Mud" and introduced her band: rhythm guitarist Willie Scandlyn; bassist Kevin Jenkins; drummer Morris Roberts; and lead guitarist Arthur Neilson.
As the show reached its homestretch, Copeland led the band through a version of "A Big Brand New Religion," with its staccato guitar, minor chords, New Orleans shuffle and "stand up and testify" lyrics. Copeland and the band then stepped out from behind the microphone stands and instruments, waved to the audience and left the stage.
Within three minutes Copeland returned. Sitting on a chair, with only Nielsen accompanying her on acoustic guitar, she sang "Beat Up Old Guitar," noting that she sang the song for President Obama at the White House. When the song ended, she thanked the crowd. As the audience for the second show began filing in, some of the crowd began heading toward the stairs, but in testimony to the brilliance of what they had just witnessed, many audience members were seen negotiating with the Iridium wait staff and club management regarding available seating for the second show.
[Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon].