Tag Archives: Jesse Smith

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.

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Happy 63rd, Patti!

Patti Smith, sharper and more focused on her birthday. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Patti Smith was still as giddy as a little girl last night, for the second of her three New Year’s shows at The Bowery Ballroom. She had reason to be happy — it was her 63rd birthday, or “burfday,” as she so charmingly says it.

But, unlike the first night, Patti brought a bit more snarl and a lot  more focus to the show. (She mentioned that The New York Times said she did some “bad things” on the first night. Check out that review, by Ben Ratliff, here.) The only slight disappointment last night was that the set list largely repeated the first night’s set. It was a spirited evening, though — good enough to make me regret my decision to skip tonight’s show to avoide the craziness of a Manhattan New Year’s Eve.

It didn't look like there were 63 candles on the cake that Jesse Smith brought onstage for her mom. But who's counting!

The evening had a few surprises. For me, the best came when James Mastro of Hoboken’s The Bongos, resplendent in a red hat, materialized onstage to assist on a cover of Neil Young’s Powderfinger. Last night’s version was much stronger than the opening night’s tepid effort, and Mastro’s professional attitude, great guitar work and solid vocals made a huge difference. (It would have been helpful if somebody had bothered to introduce James when he came onstage. While plenty of people in the audience recognized the local hero, his name wasn’t announced from stage until after he was done playing.)

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