(5 Feb 2013: Rockwood Music Hall New York)
PopMatters had a terrific interview with Alice Smith after a brief residency at Joe’s Pub at the end of last year. This year, Smith decided to further test drive songs off her forthcoming album She, an album that she successfully raised funds for through Kickstarter, after leaving a major label. This time she chose another intimate venue, Rockwood Music Hall, for an opportunity to speak and sing directly to her fans.
Smith’s humorous banter reflected this connection. Despite knowing beforehand there was a small hole in the stage, she explained she chose to wear high heels anyways. And she regularly checked on how the audience was doing. She may have wanted to ask again after her performance of “Cabaret”. The song was sweltering, at first teasing the audience with Smith’s acapella intro then, as the beat drops, the song really starts to swing and the repetitive funky rhythms carry her soaring voice.
As Smith prefaced the first single from She, “Ocean” she said asked press not to judge her incorrectly, as it was her first live performance of the song. To be fair, it had become my favorite song on the new album, and her performance of this resplendent love song was very dutiful, but when she asked for feedback at the end, I wasn’t willing to share more than cheers. One fan (her “new friend” as she called him) wasn’t shy though and made some suggestions about the last part, to which Smith replied, “See? That’s why I asked.”
On another one of the new songs, “Shot”, Smith had a bit of difficulty recalling the lyrics, but the music didn’t stop as she glanced at her guitarist mid-song for help before a gleeful look appeared on her face as the words came back to her. The staccato of her voice as she sang “shot in the hea-heart”, gave the added punch to the rousing song. This dynamic capacity of Smith’s voice is demonstrated well across the new material, which is probably why her “new friend” exclaimed she should win “a mother-fucking Grammy” after the song “Another Love”. Smith laughed, along with the audience, at comment off brushing aside the cursing with a joking “you did not”. This was the same song she suggested could be her favorite.
Following a cover of Nina Simone’s “Work Song”, Smith reached the conclusion of her set with the title song “She”. This near riotous piece is an affirmative work that reaches to the core of Smith’s gut and ended with a wrenching cry. The powerful songs on She show how much breadth Smith has and how, as PopMatters’ reviewer put it, can satisfy many musical appetites. The vitality of her live performance is unencumbered by the weight of expectations from a record label, so now Smith is free to either rain fire and brimstone down on an audience or to seduce them as she sees fit.
Fool for You (Cee-Lo Green)
Work Song (Nina Simone)
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Alice Smith concludes her residency at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City tonight. Tickets may still be available here. If you aren’t sure if you want to go, visit the OkayPlayer website and listen to “Ocean”.