Harriet Kaplan

Joan Armatrading @ The Orpheum – 05/09/2015

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IMG_1090British singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading, now 64, showed on her final world tour and performing solo, at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday May 9 that she is still a force to be reckoned with and is at height of her creative powers with her distinctive, authoritative contralto vocals undiminished by time or age. Her dynamic, muscular, gutsy and powerful playing on both acoustic and electric guitars demonstrated her versatility going from folk, rock, jazz, reggae, soul and blues to even metal, that was exciting to watch and often jaw dropping to view, as she easily switched from genre to the next with  masterful skill.

Along with guitar, Armatrading performed on keyboards and there were some occasional pre-recorded enhancements used. Several times throughout the hour-plus set, the audience erupted into thunderous applause and gave many standing ovations and cheered loudly. On “Love and Affection” from Armatrading’s vast catalog, spanning a remarkable career of 42 years, the audience overtaken by the rapture and went wild. The set list featured many highlights over that vast time period including “City Girl,” “All The Way From America,” “My Baby’s Gone,” “Rosie” and “Down To The Ground.” For each of the songs, accompanying images on a screen were projected behind Armatrading creating a stirring visual counterpoint to the lyrical content that is personal and full of raw, naked emotion and social commentary.

“In These Times,” a protest song, was dramatic and starkly illustrated with historical footage of Ku Klux Klan. When she wasn’t singing, playing guitar or keyboards, she teased, delighted and amused the audience with her British sense of humor. The dry, ironic wit punctuated the banter. With nothing left to prove, Armatrading seemed confident and knowing they were in on her jokes always smiling with a twinkle in her eye on the edge of a wink. Armatrading also gave a career retrospective through photos which included everything from being illustrated in The Beano, a long running British children’s comic, to getting her MBE to meeting Nelson Mandela.

When the show came to close, she announced she wasn’t doing an encore. She stood happily onstage reveling in the moment as audience yelled for more songs. It was a triumphant night for the richly deserving Joan Armatrading.

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