We’re spending July up north, in the Hudson Valley. On our side of the river, the east side, the food is incredible. On the west side of the river there is music. Lots of it.
Tonight, a band from the Woodstock side came to play in the Spiegeltent at Bard College, up the road from us, on our side of the river. Simi Stone, our friends told us, sang backup for Natalie Merchant last week at a show in Kingston, and saved Natalie’s behind. At least that’s what it sounded like, our friends said.
I checked into Simi Stone on the internet and found this delightful clip:
Too cute for school, but fine for going out with friends. What could go wrong?
So we went to the show tonight, met our friends and one of their friends (who had been to the Merchant show and kind of fell for Simi Stone), and were prepared to enjoy, not be blown away.
But when the show started something better happened.
This wasn’t like Jon Landau and Dave Marsh seeing Springsteen, but the fact is that you can go to a lot of shows and not catch a fire. And Simi Stone and her band threw a spark.
The lineup was unusual: Piano, drums, bass and baritone sax, plus Simi singing, playing violin and guitar. The baritone sax guy played flute on a few songs when the bari wasn’t necessary.
Simi is not exactly graceful on stage, she can seem ungainly, but when she dances she hits the groove. She has a big head of hair and subtle feet. What might seem impromptu at first starts to seem very easy and knowing as you get to know her.
But what was gripping were the songs. Soul songs, for the most part, not really extraordinary in any obvious way, but in some ways all the better for the way they respected the traditions and also told Simi Stone’s personal story. These were personal songs, cut from the cloth of Rickie Lee Jones and Laura Nyro and Bill Withers, tunes that laid bare moments of life’s pain and despair, gently, in the first person, and then more forcefully claimed life itself for itself with a groove that just goes on. Simi Stone, she sang, deserved more than she had had at her low points.
This is powerful stuff that might not mean much musically, except Simi Stone made sure that it did. Whatever her previous problems, her performance was a repudiation of trouble, while at the same time she respectfully acknowledged trouble’s power.
So her show told us her story, and at the same time had the room on its feet dancing by the end, joyous in her message of transcendence and liberation.
On a side note, at the end, Simi introduced the band. They were all good players, older than Simi, but excellent at executing her vision, it seemed. Notably, however, her bass player was Sara Lee, who was the bass player in the rather significant post-punk band Gang of Four.
My point, I guess, is that talent doesn’t always make itself obvious. Sometimes you need to get your ass kicked by a bunch of fine musicians playing live. Simi, it turns out, is an ace fiddle player, and an able guitar picker. She was also happy to get down on the dance floor to promote the idea that folks should be shaking to her music.
We were. Alas, this clip shows some of her charm but doesn’t get the hip shaking. But let’s keep an eye out for that. And go see Simi and band i they play your town.
My friend Sheila bought me a copy of Simi Stone’s CD, which was nicely autographed: