Category Archives: Wolf Trap

He’s just paying his rent every day with the Wheel of Song.

Today my friend Amanda Mattos has left me the keys to her fine blog Pinna Storm while she is away on vacation. To help fill all that space, I wrote a thing about my man Elvis Costello‘s current, roulette-wheel-driven Revolver Tour, which I will be attending at the DMV’s finest outdoor music venue, Wolf Trap, on Wednesday night. But it’s really the problem of long-lived artists trying to summarize their careers in two hours, give or take, that I’m Rubik’s-cubing here.

Night of the Hunter . . . James Hunter

British soul man James Hunter’s support set for Chris Isaak at Wolf Trap Thursday night was one of the rare occasions when I get dispatched to review an opening act. (No that I count them or anything, but it was my 100th piece for the Paper of Record.) I hadn’t planned on sticking around for Isaak afterwards, but I did and he turned out to be pretty great, too. He had to be, to avoid being upstaged by Hunter. When Isaak took the stage half an hour after Hunter finished, 30 people remained in line at the top of lawn, sans a view of the stage, to have Hunter autograph their merch. Including my girlfriend, who an hour earlier had never heard of the dude. We’d politely declined when offered backstage passes earlier (which has never happened to me before, actually), but then we ended up standing in line, at Miss Crooks’s gentle insistence, to have Hunter sign the CD I bought and, er, the poster she wanted for her office. This spells trouble, methinks. But $10 for a cool Hatch Show Print poster is a bargain. (Isaak, meanwhile, was charging $10 for glossy 8″ x 10″ photos of himself. And people were buying them.)

I’m way too young, obviously, to have seen Mr. Dynamite in his prime, but I’ve seen Sharon Jones a couple of times now, and I bet Hunter could pull that caliber of show as a headliner, no problem. I worried I might suffer a vicarious groin-pull just from watching him dance during his last number, “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Love.” Hunter does look more than a little like a slightly softer version of the famously flexible Belgian martial artist and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, whose brief tenure as a star of films that actually got released in cinemas petered out around the same tim Hunter’s career was taking off. And it’s not like you’ve ever seen the two of them together in one place, is it? I mean, if Steven Seagal can have a career in music . . .

James Hunter at Wolf Trap, Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Setlist

01 She’s Got a Way

02 No Smoke Without Fire

03 Baby, Don’t Do It (Five Royales cover)

04 Hand It Over

05 Jacqueline

06 Don’t Do Me No Favours

07 Talkin’ ‘Bout My Love

The Band

Lee Badau — baritone saxophone

Damian Hand — tenor saxphone

Kyle Koehler — keyboards

Jonathan Lee — drums

Jason Wilson — bass

James Hunter — vocals, guitar

Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Still.

Emmylou Harris. National treasure, no? Yes. Reviewed at Wolf Trap for the Paper of Record.

Soul’s Deepest Secret? Cool.


Bettye LaVette at Wolf Trap on Halloween night. Even better than it sounds. Even better than, um, 95 percent of the concerts I’ve seen since — gosh, it was just really, really good!

Read all about it in today’s Paper of Record.


01 The Stealer
02 Still Want to Be Your Baby (Take Me Like I Am)
03 Choices
04 Joy
05 Jealousy
06 Down to Zero
07 The Call It Love
08 I Guess We Shouldn’t Talk About That Now
09 My Man – He’s a Loving Man
10 You Don’t Know Me at All
11 Talking Old Soldiers
12 Right in the Middle of It (Falling in Love)*
13 Close as I’ll Get to Heaven
14 Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye LaVette)

15 Sleep to Dream
16 I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (a cappella, no mic, incredible)

*I’m not entirely sure about the title on this one.

Lucinda Williams, Under Many Influences

(A shorter version of this piece is published in today’s Paper of Record. Thanks to whomever it was over there at 15th and L who came up with the headline.)

Lucinda Williams is more than a little bit country and more than a little bit rock and roll. More specifically, she’s a little Hank Williams, a little John Coltrane, a little Chet Baker, and a little Loretta Lynn. Those were the influences she name-checked halfway through her marvelous 100-minute set at Wolf Trap Sunday night, and you could hear the ghosts of all of them — even Lynn, who is, you know, not dead — hovering in the rafters of the Filene Center as Williams took her sweet time working through a program that largely eschewed the hits in favor whatever she damn well felt like playing.

So: a half-dozen from this year’s fine West album, including the slow-burning opener, “Rescue,” and later, the pairing of “Mama You Sweet” and “Fancy Funeral.” That somber two-fer prompted Williams to call an audible for the upbeat “I Lost It,” “because I don’t want everybody to be crying in their beers,” she said. “Well, actually I do.” The night’s liveliest performance was either “Righteously” or “Honeybee,” a new Williams original that sounded like the kind of Bo Diddley stomp that the Rolling Stones might have covered on their earliest records. Williams’s ace band, especially Doug Pettibone’s volcanic electric guitar, shone on both these rockers, though they sounded just as sublime on sultrier stuff like “Unsuffer Me” or “Are You Down.”

A lack of momentum was the gig’s only flaw. That isn’t surprising given Williams’ notorious, unhurried perfectionism — one of the reasons it took her until her mid-forties, and 1998’s Grammy-winning Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, to become a star.

It’s strange to remember now that Williams’ first successes came as a songwriter, with Patty Loveless, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and even Tom Petty covering her material. (“Crescent City,” a Williams song Emmylou Harris recorded prior to its author’s mainstream breakthrough, was one of the show’s rarities.) Because while her songs are frequently superb, it’s Williams’s voice that pierces your heart. Blessed with a naturally-occurring slur, its ragged majesty can imbue even a goofy song like Ed Bruce’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” with grace.

Williams was confident enough to say goodnight with the unfamiliar “The Knowing,” a West outtake. Here’s hoping it makes the live album this tour richly deserves.

Charlie Louvin opened the show with a trip through one of the deepest and most remarkable songbooks in country music. It was a testament to his influence that many of the songs he performed (“Must You Throw Dirt in My Face,” “Atomic Power,” “The Christian Life”) were familiar from several subsequent generations of musicians having played them. Louvin sang soulfully for an hour — generous for an opener; astonishing for a man who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this month. “The Christian Life,” indeed.

The Setlist:

1 Rescue
2 Pineola
3 Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
4 Crescent City
5 Mama You Sweet
6 Fancy Funeral
7 I Lost It
8 Still I Long for Your Kiss
9 Righteously
10 Where Is My Love
11 Honeybee (new post-West rocker; amazing)
12 Joy
13 Unsuffer Me
14 Get Right with God

15 Everything Has Changed
16 Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys (yup, that one — Ed Bruce wrote it)
17 Honey Chile (Fats Domino cover)
18 Are You Down
19 The Knowing (West outtake)