Valerie June at Twilight Concert Series, Thursday August 3rd 2017
Valerie June had a blast last night during her concert at Santa Monica Pier, she was introduced as one of Bob Dylan’s new favorite artists, as the Nobel Prize winner has apparently declared in an interview that June had come up with the most interesting music that he has heard in the recent years, and if this sounds like an amazing compliment coming from someone like Dylan, June is well aware of it. She told us she was surprised to see her face on a magazine cover, and she was in total shock when she learnt about the Dylan mentioning he had been listening to her latest album ‘The Order of Time’, ‘I lost it,’ she said to Rolling Stone. ‘My biggest gift, I feel, is songwriting. So to have the god of songwriting mention he was listening to my music is huge. I never went to college, so I felt like when he mentioned my name, I got my degree that day.’
Of course a Dylan shout-out is a huge thing for this Tennessee-born songwriter, but her gift would have led her on this stage anyway, I saw her about 4 years ago during one of her early acoustic performances at Amoeba, just after the release of her 2013 album ‘Pushin’ Against a Stone’, produced by Dan Auerbach, and I was already taken by how great and original she sounded.
Valerie June was such in a great place last night, looking like a star with her glittery top and moon-shining skirt, moving with grace between her guitar and banjo, followed by her extraordinary forest of dreads going in all directions around her head. Even if June were not performing, she would stand out in a crowd of a million as she looks magical.
‘I am in the midst of great fortune,’ she kept repeating after a few songs, ‘In this moment, at this place, I am fortunate, the weather is just right, people are beautiful, there’re bright colors, I am in the midst of great fortune’…. ‘You have to remember that’… ‘I tell you, you don’t have to beg for the blues… it comes, it does come, so when you get an easy moment, when you feel in the midst of great fortunate, you have to remember to say thanks!’
You can hear many things in her music, she sings with that high-pitched-Dolly-Parton-Appalachian-Southern drawl and her music collides many sounds and vibes together, from rootsy blues with a modern twist to folk and soul often layered with a wobbling gospel church organ… it’s not difficult to understand why Dylan likes her.
Her songs are often spacey and soulful, imposing silence and bringing lumps in your throat, and yes I found myself getting emotional in the middle of her set, I can’t explain why but this may have been because she could bring up all these influences at once with great ease. Take ‘Shakedown’, a song of her last album, it starts like a country-folk song with blues influences and it morphs into something else, boogying in a sort of groovy African chant. You could certainly say that Valerie June is an old soul, going to the roots and beyond, but that would even be even too simple to describe her stirring sonic hybridization. ‘The white boy led me to the black man, it was me looking for the root,’ she said in an interview when mentioning her discovery of the blues through Nirvana. And may be this is why she uses the banjo so much, an instrument so often associated with white hillbillies of the South, but actually invented by African Americans.
All set-long she looked cute and fierce, even when she was straining her voice to a high scream. She slowed down the rhythm of the show with a solo in the middle of her set, and started talking to us, explaining that when songs come to her, they come in voices… ‘Really I just follow the voices’, she said, ‘The voices start singing’, ‘Voices came out of the blue, once when I was in an airplane, but I could not jump out of the plane!’ And that was a beautiful moment to listen to this woman telling us about her direct connection with the muse, ‘This happens all the time, this is my life!’… ‘When a song comes, I don’t care what I am doing,’ she continued as she was suddenly speaking a lot, ‘so all day, when I clean houses and I work at Maggie’s farm…’ she added and I thought I had misunderstood her but it turns out that, long before Dylan had mentioned her in an interview, June was working at a Memphis herbal store called Maggie’s Pharm… How serendipitous is that? And you can’t blame her for unassumingly mentioning the anecdote during a show! Actually, the crowd barely noticed the prophetic fate of Valerie June.
She brought back a raging bluesy tone with her musicians during ‘You Can’t Be Told’ and ‘Workin’ Woman Blues’ of her previous album, while the pulsatile bass drone and wobbling organ of ‘If And’ had an hypnotic atmosphere mixing ancient mantra chant and modern electronica – although there was no electronics in view.
June could alternate with elegance a heartfelt song like ‘Somebody to Love’ driven her piercing vocals with the transcendental lullaby-like ‘Astral Plane’, whose lyrics were originally intended for Massive Attack, she actually captivated the crowd with anything she did. Her band closed the show with a booming-with-happiness song that could simply be the definition of this woman and her music ‘Got Soul’.
Irma Thomas, the soul queen of New Orleans, was opening the show, and at 76 she still can bring a crowd to its knees, mixing old 60s classics and new songs. She is basically a legend and recorded ‘Time is on My Side’ before the Stones did… as if time and our willfulness to put it in order – as the title of Valerie June’s album suggests – could have been a theme for the night.
Man Done Wrong
Love You Once Made
Slip Slide On By
Valerie June solo
You Can’t Be Told
Workin’ Woman Blues
Somebody to Love
Lonely So Long
More pictures here