Saturday, March 9, 2013

Enchantment And Moroseness: My First Janis Ian Concert (March 8, 2013 – East Lansing, MI)!

Janis Ian Tickets
For tickets to Janis Ian Concerts, Click Here!

The Good: Amazing lyrics, Great voice, Hilarious stories, Inexpensive
The Bad: Not long enough! :)
The Basics: At the first of her forty concerts for this year, Janis Ian performed classic hits and obscure works that made for an illuminating evening.

Ever since I got married, one of the ways my wife and I have come to understand one another better has come through our giftgiving. I have found many of my most successful gifts to her have been events that allow us to spend more time together. For her, she has found that gifts that give me time to do things I know she does not enjoy are enjoyable for me. Last night, she sent me off downstate to a concert at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing, Michigan for a Janis Ian concert. I have been to very few concerts and reviewed very few live performances. To date, I have only reviewed Monty Python’s “Spamalot” (reviewed here!) and The Phantom Of The Opera (reviewed here!) as far as live performance go.

I arrived at the Hannah Community Center earlier than anyone else for the concert, which gave me plenty of time to take pictures of the venue and the stage and scouted out the best seats in the house. The Ten Pound Fiddle was presenting Janis Ian and the Hannah Community Center was an exceptional venue. Outside, it reminded me of my old high school in Rochester, NY and was an old brick building with white columns and a far more modern interior. The theater was a two-tiered seating area with about two thousand unobstructed views of the stage. Given that the stage was only to be occupied by Janis Ian, who is a fairly petite woman, there was a lot of space available for the singer. The stage was set up for Ian with two guitars, a stool that held white flowers and a small coffee mug and a single microphone.

As I waited for will call to open up, I was joined in line by two women who had been to several Janis Ian concerts around Michigan. They were very friendly and as they told me about geocaching and we discussed our musical histories, my enthusiasm for the concert only increased. They also got me excited about the idea that I might be able to actually get the Janis Ian record I bought to try to get autographed signed by Ian after the show by assuring me that she very consistently does meet with fans after her shows! In talking with them, I finally determined what I would say to Ms. Ian if I had the opportunity to actually speak with her (I always try to engage celebrities I meet with questions or lines of conversation that they have not addressed in print or in other interviews). After a few irksome newcomers cut us in the will call line (is there no civilization left?!), we got our tickets and I started the line at the second door into the concert theater. The doors opened at 7:15 and I was able to rush to the front row, center to get seats for myself and my new conversational comrades and we sat talking until the concert began at 8 P.M.

After a brief introduction from the head of the Ten Pound Fiddle concert series, the stage lights came up (including a heart-shaped gel for the back wall) and Janis Ian strode out. She wore loose fitting black pants and shirt covered by a silver vest. She came out smiling and the moment she appeared on stage, an energy came into the room that was palpable: she was clearly a performer excited to be out on stage in front of fans. [Here, it is worth noting that I only took notes at intermission and after the show ended. On my way out the door, my wife asked me if I would be reviewing the concert and I said “Probably” and she frowned in a way that indicated to me that she was disappointed that her gift was going to be used “solely” for the purpose of review. So, when I went to the concert, I decided to take pictures and enjoy the experience. That meant not sitting there with my notebook out evaluating every moment. That said, if anyone reading this was at the show and has Ms. Ian’s set list, I will gladly revise as appropriate to get the details to match my (still very fresh) memories. And for readers who might be concerned that I am disrespecting my wife by writing the review when it initially disappointed her, I cleared it with her before writing this and the way Ms. Ian spoke about her impending series of concerts, I thought “If there is anything I can do to bring more people to her concerts, I should do it!” So, the bottomline of this is: GO SEE JANIS IAN IN CONCERT!!!

Janis Ian opened with “This Train Still Runs” and her voice was strong and sad and every line, every word she sang was clear and distinct. She was emotive and expressive from the first note and following her first song, she gave a formal introduction and welcome to the audience. This show was the first of forty shows, which will put Janis Ian on the road for the next eight weeks, essentially circling the United States (counterclockwise from Michigan). She mentioned that when her first song was released, only New York City and Flint, Michigan played it. She then told a story – which she relayed in her autobiography – about performing in California and getting heckled. She then performed her breakout hit “Society’s Child.” Ian changed the tempo slightly and the notes sounded extraordinary as she sang her socially-conscious song.

Before the intermission, she sang eight or ten songs including “My Autobiography,” a jingle she created for a celebration on the Thames, and other slow, guitar-driven songs. Singing about fame and the power of music, Janis Ian was emotive and vibrant. She made a playful ad lib during “My Autobiography.” Between many of the songs, Janis Ian spoke and she was funny. In fact, Janis Ian has a sense of comic timing and comic subjects that are hilarious. Ian spoke about writing her autobiography, her wedding preparations in Nashville and getting married in Toronto (followed by a hilarious new song that is available on her website), and just how perky her music is.

Following the intermission, Ian returned to stage with a blue metallic vest to replace her silver one. In the second half of her set, she sang a new song about aging gracefully, told a story about working with Joan Baez, and “The Last Train.” Whatever the song she sang after “The Last Train” was, I have no idea; the power and impact of hearing that sad song live put me in such a fog that I seriously could not process the next song. Coming out of my shock, I was able to enjoy the remainder of the set. Ian spoke earnestly about having a hit early on in life and the alchemy of live performing. Ian was profound as she spoke about the power of live performance and the magic of performing in front of an audience thrilled to be there.

Ian closed her second half of the set with “At Seventeen” and the live rendition of it was predictably incredible. She came out for an encore, where she performed “Jesse,” sitting a foot away on stage on her guitar case from where I was seated in the audience! What was particularly extraordinary about her performance of “Jesse” was that as she sang it, it clearly affected her; tears welled up in her eyes even as she performed a song that she has performed live thousands of times in her long career.

The audience treated her to a second standing ovation, but the house lights came up. After the concert, I waited in line half an hour to meet Ms. Ian and she did, in fact, sign my album and I spoke with her on a topic that seemed to surprise her and it was a wonderful moment (at least for me).

Seeing Janis Ian perform live was an extraordinary experience. For $20 (+ venue fees bringing the total to almost $22), the audience was treated to two hours of music and comic entertainment that was thoroughly entertaining. From Ian smirking through her own rendition of “I’ve Got You, Babe” to her performing her classic tracks with all the emotion and clarity that one would hope from the master poet, Janis Ian puts on one hell of a show. Anyone who loves great folk music and genuine comedy that is thoroughly entertaining should spend an evening with Janis Ian. She is worth traveling as far as one has to; but for the next thirty-eight shows, she is bound to be near a venue close enough to make the trip worthwhile.

For other works by Janis Ian, visit my reviews of:
Janis Ian
. . . For All The Seasons Of Your Mind
Society's Child: The Verve Recordings
Between The Lines
Breaking Silence
God & The F.B.I.
Billie's Bones
Live: Working Without A Net
Folk Is The New Black
The Best Of Janis Ian - 2 CD + Exclusive DVD Edition


For other reviews of music, please be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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