Karen Elson conquers NYC

Karen Elson and her band at Manhattan's (Le) Poisson Rouge, including (to her right) Rachelle Garniez on accordion and vocals and brother brother-in-law Jackson Smith on guitar. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Call me jaded, but my expectations for Karen Elson‘s NYC solo debut at (Le) Poisson Rouge last night were not extremely high.

I expected a short, but entertaining set of competent singing and playing. But what I got was much better than that. Supermodel Karen’s vocal chops are as shimmering and lovely as her amazing good looks.

Cover art for Karen's album, The Ghost Who Walks.

While it remains to be seen whether Karen (the willowy redheaded model also known as Mrs. Jack White) has staying power as a solo artist, she showed us that she certainly has the chops.

She performed 13 tunes, backed by a five-piece band that included Jackson Smith (daughter of punk goddess Patti and Karen’s brother-in-law, by way of his marriage last year to Meg White, Jack White’s ex-wife) and the super-talented accordionist/vocalist/keyboard player Rachelle Garniez, a longtime cohort from the downtown NYC cabaret group The Citizens Band. All but one song is from her upcoming album, The Ghost Who Walks, out May 25 on Jack White’s Third Man/XL Recordings. She also did her interpretation of “Milk and Honey,” a tune written by a New York folkie, the late Jackson C. Frank, and made more famous via covers by Nick Drake and Sandy Denny.

Karen Elson at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

The crowd at (Le) Poisson Rouge was not the usual NYC music audience. There were clearly a lot of people there from the music industry and the fashion world, including magazine editors like Vogue’s Grace Coddington (a famous redhead like Karen) and photographer Annie Leibovitz. Most everyone it the sold-out house seemed pretty respectful and paid attention to the music — something that’s often not the case when it comes to curiosity shows like this one.

Those who attended last night hoping that Karen’s husband would show up were disappointed. There was no sign of Jackie White, of Jesse and Jackson’s mom, or Jackson’s wife. But that was a good thing, keeping the focus on the music.

The opening act was an unannounced duo of a woman on keyboard and man on xylophone. Since they never introduced themselves and barely said a word during their largely instrumental set, I’m willing to bet that many people in the audience had no idea that they were hearing from Jesse Smith (daughter of Patti) and her musical partner Michael Campbell. They are an enormously talented duo. But their performing style and dour stage presence don’t make for an interesting set. Their music would be great for meditation or as a sonic backdrop, but their lack of dynamism hampers their ability to present themselves as a strong live act.

Please click through to the jump for more, including Karen’s set list.


  • Pretty Babies
  • The Truth Is The Dirt
  • Stolen Roses
  • Cruel Summer
  • Lunasa
  • 100 Years From Now
  • Garden
  • A Thief At My Door
  • The Birds They Circle
  • The Last Laugh
  • Mouths To Feed


  • Milk And Honey
  • The Ghost Who Walks

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