Alice Smith Arrives In Wonderland
Last night after getting my swerve on at Japan Society (more on that in another post), I headed over to the Nokia Theater to catch Alice Smith and Citizen Cope. As you know I just love her CD as it seems everyone else who has also heard it. I was especially interested in seeing Alice because she's been on tour for the last three months and I wanted to see what, if anything, did the road teach her about performing live. Well I am too happy to report that homegrrrl has picked up and mastered some very important lessons and tricks. Seeing her belt out songs and relate to the audience with such immediacy and warmth and humility and just be so in sync with her tight as$ band just made me think about something Chaka Khan said to me many, many years ago at Tramps when I had the privilege of hanging with her backstage. I had just interviewed The Brothers Johnson (her opening act) and was sharing with her one of the Brother’s realizations about their current musical status and how it was by and large defined by their stage show and touring. They didn't have videos or any new cd's coming out. She replied how she knew how to sing before she toured but she cut her teeth on the road and became Chaka Khan on the road and how it was again becoming her bread and butter both financially and artistically speaking. Then in total Ms. Khan mode she threw everyone out her dressing room-- "All you bitches have got to go." She then pointed to me and said, "Except you. You’re a good bitch." And there began the first of two of the most memorable nights of my life hanging with Chaka backstage and in her dressing room. I digress.
Anyway I've heard the same thing from Amel Larriuex too and just seeing Alice last night brought it all home for me in many ways. I’ve been watching Alice perform for about 4 years now, maybe more. From Burnt Sugar to Jolie Fuego to performing solo it’s been a real ride watching her extend and contract with every twist and turn. I must say in every band she brought a different kind of sound to the table but she always brought that voice which is sexy and quirky, commanding and playful. Now under the tutelage of Citizen Cope (who’s performance was also dope) her singing is richer, stronger and more embraceable than ever. When she was finishing up her set I was so caught up that tears welled up in my eyes and Lord knows I had to fight hard to keep them from spilling over and moistening my cheeks. I imagine it was like watching your child graduate from school. It was pride and fulfillment in a dream you didn’t even realize was so much your own. The last two songs of her set (and actually of her tour) were Love Endeavor and Desert Song.
In Love Endeavor she danced and then wailed, “This love endeavor don’t have to last forever/ c'mon and share whatever you want with me/ Don’t want to mislead you/ Just come on over,” and couldn’t help but wonder if this had become a mantra for her especially now that she has signed a major deal with Sony Music. Well if it hasn’t, it better be because that deal may come with exposure on MTV and some nice dollars, but it doesn't guarantee fame or even the love and loyalty of fans. Having worked at Sony for three years I know that their track record with women of color who sing the alternative joints is inconsistent at best and totally effed up at worst. Cree Summer, Amel Larrieux, Macy Gray, Jeni Fujita, Sophia Ramos and Dionne Farris are just a few of their former artists that come to mind. The last song of the night, which is my favorite on the album (along with Dream) was Desert Song. All I know is when she grabbed the mic and leaned back and sang or should I say testified, “My momma said life is for living and if you aren’t happy, honey go out and reinvent yourself (cause) the desert is good,” I thought folks were going to bumrush the stage. It was just that momentous up in that joint. The crowd-- a mosh of college students and effervescent 20-somethings knew about the desert it seemed and at that moment we all knew Margie (Alice's mom) ain’t say no lie. It was a coming home like I don’t think she’s ever had and I for one am proud to say I was a witness.