Sunday, 29 March 2015

Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Tabernacle, London

Buffy Sainte-Marie and her new band flew over from Australia to join Morrissey on his current UK tour and, on their night off, came to London for a one-off show at the Tabernacle. They must be well tired by now. I had to be there, obv.

The Tabernacle is a bit of an odd place to play but I suspect there wasn't much of a choice in venues since this was only booked about four weeks ago. I'd never been there before and it's sort of an old churchy place turned into an arts venue with the quaint thing of going up to a reception desk to show your tickets and then getting your hand stamped with ink so you can go in and out all night if you want to. The hall is upstairs with a raised balcony on three sides with pews to sit on, with the hall being standing, a glitter ball hanging from the ceiling and the ceiling held up with good old Victoria ironmongery. I quite liked it but, not being local, it was a bit of a pain to get to wandering round the residential streets of west London. I wonder what Buffy thought of the place?

This was all a bit exciting for Buffy fans, what with the announcement of touring with Morrissey a matter of weeks ago and then this gig and the news of Buffy's new album, 'Power In The Blood', due in May.  Buffy last played in London at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank during the London  Olympics in 2012 (I was there, of course).

There was a sign on the door saying that filming would be going on and I suspect that's what slowed down the start of the gig, with the camera lad wandering round, checking cameras, getting set up to film and such like. I couldn't help but thinking, 'you've only had all day …' and then suddenly the band started to come on, a new bassist and guitarist, Michel still on drums and then on came Buffy in tight black jacket and trousers, beaded choker, wreathed in smiles and waving to the audience.

Then, without a word she slung her guitar and started picking the strings to open the show with her new version of 'It's My Way', a song first released in 1964. And it is powerful! The original is just her playing acoustic guitar, but this is her with a flight of guitars and drums and makes a mighty song to start with! And then we had the pounding opening to 'Cho Cho Fire' and we're off and running for the drum!

It was a great setlist and definitely at the 'rock' end of her work, full of guitars, drums and keyboards with the odd exception for some of her classics. The setlist was (not in the right order):

It's My Way (new version)
Cho Cho Fire
No No Keshagesh
Little Wheel Spin and Spin
Blue Sunday
Universal Soldier
Until It's Time For You To Go
I'm Gonna Be A Country Girl Again
Generation (new Version)
Darling Don't Cry
Up Where We Belong
Soldier Blue
Not The Lovin' Kind (new version)
Power In The Blood (new)
We Are Circling (new version)
Farm In The Middle of Nowhere (new)
Carry It On (new version)
Starwalker (encore)

Buffy and her band must've been dropping from jetlag and sheer tiredness but you'd never guess it. They were definitely 'up' and in very good form indeed. The sound was a bit muddy now and then but that's hardly surprising since they've come out of arenas to play the more bijou Tabernacle.

It was a great setlist and I must focus on the songs from the new album, 'Power In The Blood', since new Buffy songs are always worth listening to (and these in particular). These were:

'It's My Way' is the new version gradually introduces guitars and drums rather than Buffy's original acoustic version and it was a great opener, throwing down the towel to say this is me today, not 50 years ago! It's already available to download from iTunes as the lead song from 'Power'.

'Power In The Blood' is Buffy's re-worked version of the Alabama 3 song of the same name, a powerful and political rock song that she's made her own.

'We Are Circling' was introduced as a round-song sang by the acid-rainbow hippies on a hill outside San Francisco that she's written some new verses to and it sounded fantastic in it's mesmerising repetition. I've got the version Buffy recorded a few years ago with The Sadies but this version is so much better, pulling you in and making you part of the family.

'Farm In The Middle Of Nowhere' was introduced as 'true, sort of' and is a delightful and gentle song that had me smiling at the sheer simplicity of Buffy singing about living in the middle of nowhere with her goats. I loved it. Especially since someone in the audience asked her about her goats immediately before the song.

'Generation' is an old song from 'Sweet America' given a make-over and some slight word changes to make it a new song with soaring guitar and Buffy singing about wanting to dance with the Rosebud Sioux in the summer (don't we all?).

'Not The Lovin' Kind' is another old song (from 'Moonshot') and works incredibly well with the full band sound behind it, and then there's...

'Carry It On' which is another old song but you won't find it with that title in Buffy's catalogue. It's based on 'Look At The Facts' from 'Sweet America' but sounded so much more powerful played live. My first reaction was that, with a bit of judicial editing, Buffy's turned it into a rock anthem complete with a punch-the-air chorus - it was magnificent! I'm looking forward to hearing the recorded version of this when the new record comes out!

This was a most fabulous gig and I'm sort of thinking it's the best I've seen Buffy on stage. Part of that is the joy of the new (and re-recorded) songs but the energy coming off that stage was almost palpable. The reception of the old songs was great and there weren't even that many of Buffy's classics - songs were mostly from 'Running For The Drum' and 'Power In the Blood' and the set worked so well. It got the audience dancing and singing along and that's what you want, isn't it? It was also lovely to see the old freaks and hippies coming out to play, with lots of people in 'casuals' but also a surprising number of younger people as well, which is a good thing. Oh, and Cerys Matthews was in the audience too (I had to say hello on the way out). I didn't see any publicity for the gig at all so clearly word-of-mouth still works for Buffy!

As ever, I never take good photos of Buffy so I didn't take many at all but there are a few in this blog. They're all a bit serious looking but there were far more smiles than frowns. And I love the out-of-focus photo below since it shows the energy Buffy puts into her songs, head back and vocals forward!

Migweetch Buffy - until the next time!

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