The Crazy Horse, Irvine, California • July 20, 2002
by David Scott
The Crazy Horse, Irvine, California • July 20, 2002
I don't look forward to trips into Orange County. It could be the place Jackie DeShannon had in mind when she wrote Vanished in Time; strip malls, theme parks and freeways crowd each other for the last remaining acres of space in a land once known for its citrus groves and family farms. And, as I crept along in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I wondered just how well the liberal politics of several songs from You Know Me would go down in the notorious epicenter of Reagan conservatism.
The capacity crowd at Crazy Horse - a combination steak house and show venue - was clearly there for the oldies. DeShannon put their minds at ease as she finished the show opener Just How Right You Are and launched into When You Walk in the Room. "You can sing along on this one," she instructed. "I think you know it, don't you?"
I had seen her other L.A. appearances, first at the intimate McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica and later at the upscale Knitting Factory on Sunset Strip. DeShannon worked hard in both settings to retain relevance as a contemporary artist and not just ride a wave of nostalgia. I could forgive her letting down her guard tonight, however, given the location and audience.
The first half of the set packed a musical punch, thanks to the sleek efficiency of a band anchored by You Know Me session musicians Tony TerBorg (keyboards, music director), Paulo Gustavo (bass) and Matt Forsyth (drums). Support came from an additional percussionist, guitarist and sax man. The sound's fullness helped smooth over the slightly ragged edges of DeShannon's vocals, although this evening's rawness made for a moving reading of Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (a song she clearly loves to sing).
The performance and lineup varied little from her other L.A.-area sets, right down to the story of how Peter, Paul and Mary had taken her to Carnegie Hall in New York City to hear Dylan. ("He was so exciting, I thought my hair was gonna catch fire!" she quipped.) A funky, reggae-inspired bridge dressed up Needles and Pins, and I thought it interesting that tonight she thanked both Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche for writing it for her where I'd only ever heard her acknowledge Nitzsche before. You're Here for Me, the new anthem for the Seeing Eye Dog Program, replaced Wing Ryder, and DeShannon and the band delivered the cover of Can't Find My Way Back Home - the hypnotic stand out at the McCabe's shows - in a much more perfunctory arrangement. Sorely missing from tonight was Jimmy Z's plaintive flute.
Only the reading of Vanished in Time - which DeShannon introduced as a song she'd written about the decay of the countryside and family-owned farms in her native Kentucky - would hint at what was to come.
DeShannon, who wore a full-length white lace skirt, a white button-down blouse, and open-toed sandals, changed the evening's pace when she took a deep breath and cryptically said, "Well, I'm going to talk about it," leaving us to wonder about that ominous "it" while she hitched up the strap on her blue acoustic guitar. She began, haltingly, "I wrote this song for You Know Me, and I'm really proud of it, especially if it can stop one more can from being thrown into the ocean...." Another deep breath, then, "And now I'm dedicating it to Exxon and Enron."
The fierce reading of Somewhere in America that followed took no prisoners: from the opening indictment of bankers, lawyers and brokers; to lines newly rife with chilly post-9/11 meaning ("There's so many questions/Man is very dangerous/Deceiving the less fortunate/Hiding undercover now/We sacrifice the living/Knowing who's stronger"); to the hectoring chorus of "We are responsible/We are responsible/Can anybody hear
me/Somewhere, somewhere in America." Ladies and gentlemen, it was no longer oldies night at the Crazy Horse; this was nearly sedition.
DeShannon ended the song with her back to the audience and remained that way through the polite applause. Energized versions of Steal the Thunder and Song for Sandra Jean (Rites of Passage) quickly followed. DeShannon introduced the last one by saying it had been written about and for her mother. Her vocal was truly aching.
She next introduced What The World Needs Now Is Love with "I think you know this one, and if you don't, you'd better." She'd barely gotten into the song when she asked the audience to stand up and join in unison with her. Bacharach and David's little prayer for peace and understanding - long resigned to hit-parade has-been status - was delivered as salve for a troubled world, thanks to DeShannon's pleading vocal, the band's urgent arrangement and audience-as-church choir. The effect was stunning.
DeShannon ended the evening with Bette Davis Eyes and Put a Little Love in Your Heart. She exited with a triumphant cry of "Who said we couldn't get it done?" and returned for an encore of Hungry Heart.
As she had done at McCabe's, DeShannon met fans after the show; I was intrigued that she'd changed into a white Ralph Lauren t-shirt adorned by a prominent American flag. As I handed her my You're Here for Me CD single to sign, I couldn't help but say, "Somewhere in America really hit home tonight. You're really brave!" She laughed and admitted that she had been nervous about doing it. "I don't want to stand up and preach, but you have to back what you believe in," she added.
Those words and the stinging delivery of Somewhere in America were still ringing in my ears as I walked past the miles of shiny, neon store edifices to the endless sea of SUVs in the mall's valet parking lot (only in Southern California, folks!). I overheard a fellow concert-goer say to his friends, "Any girl that can sing Hungry Heart is pretty good."
And so it is that the woman who taught the Boss - by his own admission - a thing or two about rock 'n' roll still finds herself asking "Can anybody hear me, somewhere in America?"
Brett Topper, the show's producer, opened with a brief set.