Thursday, January 10, 2013
Janis Ian Unplugged in New York City
Walking onstage to thunderous applause, the droll Ms Ian grinned and quipped, "Well, this is certainly different from the way things were on the night of Sandy!" Yes, indeed; this time there was a quiet storm onstage!
Janis opened with "Through the Years," which set the theme for a mature performer re-interpreting decades of her music while looking ahead to the future of her artistry. She shone with a new song toward the end of her act ("I'm Still Standing Here") promising a new album.
Ms Ian was simply and yet, paradoxically, theatrically real. Unplugged, on stage alone with just a guitar that she used for bravado effect or strummed for tranquil beauty, she was the epitome of folk music's revenge upon the tackiness and cacophony of today's radio's pop tunes.
"I was a has-been at 16 and it's been uphill ever since," the singer said sardonically by way of introducing "Society's Child" early in the set. That song, which launched her to fame, was about a high school girl's interracial date, and was a controversial radio single back in 1965. Produced by George "Shadow" Morton of Shangri-Las fame, that song may have posited Janis as a one-hit wonder had she not rallied back in 1975 with her smash, Grammy Award-winning "At Seventeen."
During her Winery show, Janis sauntered through a litany of her tunes, alternately sensitive and glib, ever the name-dropping raconteur, doing her impersonations of Cleo Lane, Joan Baez, Bette Midler and others as she detailed her times in their company. Her soft yet strong vocals beautifully put "Some People's Lives" (recorded by the Divine Miss M) across to the night's full house, reclaiming the number she co-wrote, with trademark sensitivity.
One of Janis' diva moments during this very unpretentious outing was her wardrobe change during intermission. Janis Ian (nee Janis Fink from New Jersey) formally closed with her best-known "At Seventeen," bringing the crowd to its collective feet; then rebounded with "I'm Still Standing Here," her encore, and an affirmative number that had her largely more mature audience empathetic and captivated. It proved to be an anthem of sorts last night, rallying another standing O.
But the ultimate diva move was singing "Jesse" (Janis' song that Roberta Flack immortalized) as her second encore and closing number. Totally unplugged, sitting at the edge of the stage without a microphone, daring us to hear a pin drop, she was at her dramatic best.
Most divas would end by belting out an anthem to close the show. Janis rules by her plain, guileless clarity and integrity. Unplugged suits her.