24 April 2015

Rosanne Cash in Concert

Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal

Thursday, 23 April 2015
Kentucky Country Day School

I learned about this concert a month ago; I believe it was through a BandsInTown email, but I could be wrong about that. I had spent the night with a friend and when I woke up, I decided I was going to buy a ticket. With my health, that's a game of roulette and it can be costly, which is why I quit going to concerts entirely several years ago. But after bantering with Cash via Twitter the last few years and coming to form a familiar perception of her separate from her identity as a famous entertainer. She's been encouraging during times of depression and I can always count on her to tweet #CrohnsSucks on my birthday (it's gonna trend one of these years, dammit!). It was in this somewhat personalized context that I felt that I needed to go see her perform. Kind of like if your online pal was in a band and came to town, except your pal is a bona fide superstar, if you'll excuse the unintended arrogance of that characterization.

Plus, there was The River & the Thread, her most recent (and Grammy-winning) album. I played it the day it came out last January and it instantly resonated with me like no album since Chely Wright's Lifted Off the Ground in 2010. You can read the entirety of my reaction here. The prospect of hearing even just a few of its songs performed live was irresistible.

When your pal is in a band and comes to town having created a true masterpiece of art - and I hesitate to use that phrasing only because of how commonly it's ascribed to undeserving works - you have to go. My physical self threatened to ruin the whole thing; I spent the entire day in bed, achy and exhausted from a rough Crohn's night. Thankfully, though, I rallied a few hours before showtime. Remind me to thank my doctor when I see her in a couple of weeks.

I'd never been to the Kentucky Country Day School, though I've shopped across the street from it for years at The Paddocks (formerly The Summit). I was just there a few weeks ago with my brother, as a matter of fact, to grab some Qdoba and we wound up sitting two tables away from my aforementioned doctor. It's a small world. Speaking of which, I couldn't help but to think of how we were there to hear Rosanne Cash sing songs about the Southern culture, shaped as much by geography and weather as by human choices, in a venue adjacent to a roadway decimated a few weeks ago by a washout:

Photo: +WAVE3
Anyway, the KCDS theater is what's commonly referred to as "intimate", meaning it's tiny but nice. I had been able to select my specific seat when I bought my ticket, and I snagged Row E, Seat 116 - the aisle seat in the fifth row! I had a spectacular view, though I suspect even those in the very back corner left satisfied with their vantage point.

I didn't take any pictures during the show, because I didn't want to be disruptive. *side eyes a few others in the crowd*
Because of the scale of the venue, Cash performed without her touring band. Instead, it was just her and John Leventhal, her husband/producer/co-writer and their guitars. Y'all, John Leventhal is a hell of a guitarist. I knew that by reputation, but actually watching and hearing him play was damn near revelatory. I was mesmerized at times by the sounds he created with just that single instrument. I have no doubt that the touring band members are all terrific, but I didn't miss them tonight. There was no feeling that this was an abridgment of the "real" show; this was every bit as complete as it should have been. Let's put it this way: I was so impressed by Leventhal's musicianship and stage presence that I can pull for the Mets now in any game that doesn't involve or affect the Reds. That's high praise.

The set consisted of seventeen songs, nine of them from The River & the Thread, which thrilled me. Each song was introduced - not merely prefaced - by Cash with its genesis and the context from which the song emerged. These introductions could have been perfunctory, even intrusive, but this was Rosanne Cash, so instead Cash-as-Narrator came to hold as much sway over the evening as Cash-as-Musician. I would be surprised at this point if she could even perform just one of these songs without including its overview, and to be honest, I kinda wish there was an edition of the album that included these interludes.

My favorite song on The River & the Thread is probably "Etta's Tune", and it was delightful to hear her perform that tonight. I will confess that "When the Master Calls the Roll" hit me unexpectedly and I was actually misty-eyed by its conclusion. That was followed by "Money Road" and "Ode to Billie Joe", and that entire passage of the show made me think of various friends of mine I wish had been there to share the experience. I don't quite know why I only thought of anyone else at that point in the show, but I felt awfully lonesome until the joyous "Tennessee Flat Top Box" relieved the melancholy.

I've seen my share of performers over the years, including some stand-up comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Steven Wright, and I have never seen anything quite like the easygoing poise that Rosanne Cash displayed on stage, alternating between her dual roles as narrator and musician for nearly two full hours. I don't know how mindful anyone else in the audience may have been about that aspect, but I left the auditorium in genuine awe...though I'm also admittedly biased. She's my online pal, after all, and I'm thrilled she came to town.

Oh, and a special shout-out to her tour manager, Danny Kahn, whom I met at the merchandise table. He very kindly procured for me a copy of the night's set list, though there were a couple of tweaks made during the show from what was printed. I've posted the accurate list, including two encore songs, to setlist.fm here. (Don't go pestering him at shows, though; I only want to acknowledge his generosity, not put a target on his back!)

See? Told you we were pals.