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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Melanie's Easter Message at B. B. King's

The fact that Melanie opened her Saturday night set, at New York's B. B. King's, with one of my personal favorites from her oeuvre, "Beautiful People," set me in a proper mood for her show. But this was to be no night for nostalgia as the 65-year-old folk singer let us know early on.

The 2012 version of Melanie's act exposed us to to how she has evolved as a songwriter and singer throughout the years, keeping the ethos of love, peace and happiness (which made her a Woodstock-era darling) a constant theme, keeping it interesting.

Another constant is that voice! Like sister Queens native, Cyndi Lauper, Melanie can sound disarmingly squeaky and cutie-pie-ish, then soar to powerfully belting out a number, all to grand effect. Her phrasing is unique and has certainly become more sophisticated and polished over time.

Expressing her disdain for being pigeon-holed as a cultural token of the hippie era, she recounts participating in a "Hippie" theme show, where she was asked to only do hits. Not only did she sneak in a non-hippie non-hit, she sang "Those Were the Days" at the event -- a song actually done by Mary Hopkin. Nobody noticed.

I saw Melanie at B. B. King's a few years back. At the time, she seemed pleased to do her heyday's hits. But she's obviously rethought her gig for New Yorkers as something more refined. The 2-hour performance had the club rudely turning on the bar's lights as a signal to the performer, but Melanie blithely ignored that.

A delightful raconteur who scatters patter throughout her song list, Melanie may go overboard when interrupting her singing too frequently for witty asides.

With a keyboardist and her son, Beau, on hand (a genius on strings), both providing back-up vocals, Melanie's impressive later -career songs included "Jammin' Alone," "Crazy Love," "Make It Work" and material from her new album, Ever Since You Never Heard of Me. The cd can be purchased from her website at melaniesafka.com.

Cute as a bunny, hunky Beau wore rabbit ears in honor of Easter and leaped about athletically to gleefully adjust mom's guitar strings. Melanie is no slouch on guitar and -- forget about its strings! -- she uses the damned thing for percussion as well. She commented about her youngest child: "I won't call him my baby any more. I did that at my last show here, and a woman near the stage yelled: 'You go, girl!' I had to explain I didn't mean 'baby' that way!"

Melanie did give us a long, rousing version of "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" with a segue near end that incorporated Plastic Ono Band's "Give Peace a Chance." A master of inspiring audience participation throughout her act, she had the audience on its feet, singing and clapping for that number. (The Woodstock diva quipped, "I can tell this is a pan-generational crowd. I see some people holding up real candles, some holding lighters, and some apps!")

An abbreviated version of "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma" was presented, as well as an annotated "Brand New Key."

So, love, peace and happiness.... Melanie's keeping the candles, lighters and apps lit in the rain of today's American political scene. And doing it with a mix of style, professionalism and gorgeously raw talent.  Happy Easter!



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