May 16, 2012

Concert #637 - Julie Christensen at McCabe's Guitar Shop (May 13, 2012)

This was my fourth encounter with Julie Christensen, yet only the first time to see her in a headlining role. I first heard of Julie in 1992, when she opened for Luka Bloom at the Variety Theater in Downtown Los Angeles. Twenty years later, I have no recollection at all about her set, nor do I remember what her contribution was to the otherwise unforgettable "Shock and Awe" mega-concert dedicated to Randy Newman's music that took place in 2004 at UCLA's Royce Hall. In sharp contrast with these memory slip-ups, I will never ever forget her monumental rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Anthem", which she sang with Perla Batalla in 2007, also at UCLA. That night I made a huge mental note to catch Julie again sometime in the future and last Sunday at McCabe's I finally had my chance. Sitting in the front row, I was wondering whether she would impact me once again as forcefully as she did in 2007.

Julie did not disappoint. She was in excellent vocal form and the songs were great, too, so I enjoyed her show from start to finish. The set list was based primarily on her newly-released album titled "Weeds Like Us", which I promptly bought after the show.

One of the two set lists placed on the stage floor
Another set list (note the slightly different song sequence)

The crowd was definitely thin, but that was to be expected on a Mother's Day Sunday night. Well, whoever wasn't there missed a great show that featured not only a classy vocalist, but also a top-notch band. Multi-multi-multi-instrumentalist Jeff Turmes played four different stringed instruments (banjo, electric bass, acoustic and electric guitars) and I had a lot of fun following his intricate bass lines. Rick Shea's electric guitar accompaniment was exceptionally good and so was Steve Mugalian's gentle drumming. There were no flashy solos, as Jeff, Rick and Steve played together like a true band whose sole mission was to support Julie's songs and voice.

The only song I knew the whole night also happened to be one of the finest songs of the entire concert. I'm talking about "Weeds Like Us", a number written by Jeff Turmes and previously recorded by Janiva Magness, Jeff's ex-wife. Attending a concert with mostly new songs could be a drag, but that wasn't the case at all last Sunday. The songs I liked the most were "Restless", "Slot Machine"and "Slow Motion Trouble".

The album I bought after the show

Throughout the show, Julie appeared to be happy to be performing for us. Her stage banter was not excessive and her warm and friendly demeanor gave the whole show a very intimate feel. And the sound was stellar, as usual.

Julie Christensen at McCabe's
Jeff Turmes chatting with a fan
The show was opened by Cindy Lee Berryhill. Her set consisted of nothing but her own compositions, there were a few good ones among them, but the show would have benefited from a cover song or two. Cindy Lee came out with Renata Bratt on cello and Randy Hoffman on glockenspiel and percussion - they sounded well together. The song I liked the best was "The Adventurist".
Cindy Lee Berryhill at McCabe's
Cindy Lee Berryhill's set list
Julie Christensen fan Peter Case (right)
Julie Christensen and Jeff Turmes reporting to work
 After last Sunday's concert, Julie remains solidly on my "Must See Again" list and until I see her again, I'll keep dreaming about an encore performance of "Anthem", with guest artist Perla Batalla, who else?

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