Michelle Shocked and Tony Garnier at City Vineyard
City Winery's City Vineyard restaurant/performance space spin-off on the Hudson River at Pier 26 launched its "Voices on the Hudson" songwriter series last night in a big way, with Michelle Shocked accompanied by the great Tony Garnier on acoustic bass.
After coming out to Garnier's bowed jazz bass lines and singing an ad-libbed audience appreciation greeting, Shocked did her best to explain the evening's concept: She would pass out a hat filled with Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream gift cards, each with a song from her "Mercury Trilogy" of albums—the three Mercury label album releases (Short Sharped Shocked, Captain Swing and Arkansas Traveler) that followed its release of her legendary acoustic 1986 pre-Mercury signing solo folk album The Texas Campfire Tapes.
Audience members would then pick a card and call out the song, and Shocked would then construct a set from the call-outs, the Ben & Jerry's cards being a continuation of a relationship extending back to its first major ad campaign in 1994, which featured Shocked and other activists including Pete Seeger, Daniel Berrigan and Carlos Santana.
First up was "Memories of East Texas," from Short Sharp Shocked (1988), for which she offered to tell either the story of how she learned to drive a Volkswagen or the "tragedy of my senior prom." The latter was the popular choice by far, and the story became a parable of forgiveness.
Called 'Kung Fu' in high school because she looked like David Carradine, she said, she wasn't asked to the prom. So she boldly asked a boy who stood her up, and the heartbreak lingered until many years later when the offender friended her on Facebook.
"What would Jesus do?" wondered Shocked, who by now also realized that she had survived the hurt—more or less--and thereby accepted the friending. She then finished the song with a deep wail. On "When I Grow Up" (also from Short Sharp Shocked) she went from animal cries to John Lee Hooker growls. Then again, the Dallas native is as one-of-a-kind vocalist as was her fellow Texan Janis Joplin, in Shocked's case one who can preternaturally spring from folk to blues, gospel and varied styles of swing.
Such range would be dizzying for a lesser accompanist than Garnier, who had little time to study the Mercury Trilogy. But he brought to Shocked the same extraordinary sensitivity he brings to Bob Dylan as his longest lasting sideman (since 1989), following her adroitly through her myriad changes in volume, tone and timing.
"Prodigal Daughter (Cotton Eyed Joe)" from Arkansas Traveler (1992) turned into a Garnier tribute, as Shocked noted that Garnier had played the "Cotton-Eyed Joe" country dance hall standard during his stint with Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel; she also delighted the sit-down room by leading them in a "chair square dance," shouting out directions like "lean to the left" and "lean to the right," then baffling everyone with "do-si-do."
For Arkansas Traveler's "Blackberry Blossom," which features a traditional folk melody, Shocked brought up veteran New York music business lawyer Janine Small to play bluegrass mandolin, hailing her as "the world's bavest attorney." She also performed that album's bluesier "Hold Me Back," and Short Sharp Shocked's charted single "Anchorage" and Jean Ritchie's bleak coal miner ballad "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore."
Having recently moved to New York, Shocked said she's working with City Winery on a summer residency entailing full performances of the Mercury Trilogy albums. She closed with Arkansas Traveler's "Secret to a Long Life," getting everyone to sing along with the reveal of "knowing when it's time to go." She even got a rare chuckle from Garnier when she asked all to sing like Dylan.
"God bless us--everyone," she said at the finish. "We're going to need it." And she walked off with those in the room still singing to Garnier's bass play.