The Santa Monica Pier rocked hard on July 31, when Michelle Shocked and Mike Farris brought a whole lot of shaking to the Twilight Dance Series, although the crowd was so thick there may have not been much room for dancing.
Farris and his Roseland Rhythm Review, from Nashville, opened the show. Telling the audience that his aim is “to reintroduce everybody to the roots of American popular music – black church music,” Farris belted out gospel songs, backed by a band that included a horn section, piano, and two really good female backup singers. Farris’s singing energy came close at times to that of Janis Joplin – you felt his head was going to explode from the force of his singing. He did settle down with his rendition of Sam Cooke’s noble civil rights ballad “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and he changed the lyrics slightly, singing “I’m NOT afraid to die,” in affirmation of his faith. But he soon returned to high voltage with the old favorites “You Can’t Sit Down,” and “I’ll Take You There,” and had the audience singing along. The only possible drawback was the volume – too loud for many in the crowd.
Michelle Shocked has, well, “come a long way” from the young folkie who recorded her first album on a Sony Walkman. Currently she’s rocking hard and also, like Farris, backing herself up with a gospel-flavored band (the backup singers, Shocked told the audience, were from her church). And there was Shocked herself, tall and slim with a cap on her head and an electric guitar in hand.
“Are you ready?” she cried out and began to play and sing a rousing, fast rock-gospel number. “Joy Hallelujah” she sang, and the audience sang “Joy Hallelujah” in response.
Next up was a cover of The Band’s “The Weight,” also an audience sing-along. The audience participation continued with Shocked’s song from the movie Dead Man Walking, “The Quality of Mercy,” for which she had the audience sing the title phrase back to her, call-and-response style.
Despite these folksy touches, the electrified and speeded-up songs might have dismayed some longtime fans. Shocked has moved through many phases over the years, experimenting with genres and freaking out staid music executives. Good for her! But whatever her new mode of expression may be, Shocked does not forget her own “roots.” By the time that some audience members were calling out for her classic hit “Come A Long Way,” Shocked had brought out her acoustic guitar. She continued her set by alternating hard fast rocking numbers with slower, sweeter ones.
After almost burning down the stage with a scorcher called “When I Grow Up, I Wanna Be An Old Woman,” Shocked took out her cell phone and pretended (?) to call her boyfriend – who didn’t answer. One hopes it was just a way of introducing the semi-acoustic ballad “Other People,” described as “technically a love song” but actually an anti-war song. For this number, Shocked brought out on stage members of anti-war activist group Code Pink, with whom she will be attending the Democratic National Convention. She took time out from the song to speak of her passionate anti-war stance and her refusal to not speak out against war.That would have been a climactic moment, but there were more songs to come and that included, at long last, “Come A Long Way.” It seemed a bit rushed but it gratified an enraptured audience. If this is her latest direction, Michelle Shocked’s next album is gonna kick some butt.