Monday, April 30, 2007

Dianne Reeves

Everyone at the Lincoln Theatre on Friday night wanted to hear jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves sing -- and, good heavens, did she, her voice as warm, radiant and agile as ever. She was in such commanding form, whether soulfully interpreting a ballad or freely improvising, that you sensed the audience felt privileged to be witnessing the performance.

But now and then, Reeves just wanted to dish. And when the subject was actor/director/ sexiest-man-alive George Clooney, with whom she collaborated on the film "Good Night, and Good Luck," the crowd was captivated. "He'd be this close," she woozily recalled, holding her hand a few inches from her face. Real or imagined, her tales of romantic encounters provoked gales of laughter.

The evening wasn't entirely lighthearted. Reeves briefly alluded to the killings at Virginia Tech -- she just finished a college tour in the state -- before tapping into the rich vein of spiritual themes and gospel beats that runs through her music. Closely attuned to her new, quick-witted trio -- pianist Geoff Keezer, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Gregory Hutchinson -- the singer seemed incapable of hitting a strident or unfelt note while moving through a program that featured imaginative arrangements of "Suzanne," "You Taught My Heart to Sing" and "Social Call."

Presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society and the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, the concert led to standing ovations and a joyous encore sparked by Reeves's theme song, "Better Days."

-- Mike Joyce

The Dismemberment Plan

To witness the Dismemberment Plan shimmying into "A Life of Possibilities" at the Black Cat Friday night was to be swamped -- with nostalgia, excitement, deja vu, melancholy and, mostly, warmth. After all, the much-loved local quartet reunited to play a pair of weekend shows -- which sold out with lightning speed when announced in March -- to support Callum Robbins, son of Channels bassist Janet Morgan and longtime D.C. music fixture J. Robbins. Callum was born with spinal muscular atrophy (see http://desotorecords.com/cal), and the medical bills have been staggering.

The Plan joined a long list of musicians helping him out, and in doing so it hardly looked or sounded as if nearly four years had passed since the band had stopped plying its unique mix of D.C. punk, whip-crack pop, smart boy noise and sneaky, suggestive melody. Naturally the set list was a D-Plan hit parade, and some of it sounded surprisingly better with age: "Spider in the Snow," "Gyroscope," "Sentimental Man," "Do the Standing Still" and especially "The Ice of Boston," bolstered by the traditional audience-onstage backing chorus.

The throng that clambered up Friday packed the Cat's stage so tightly that Travis Morrison had to put down his guitar just to have room to stand. That surging anthem was the emotional high point of a thoroughly enjoyable show, one that boiled down to a very good rock band re-creating its very good chemistry for a very good cause. But it was more, too: The Plan was leading a celebration in the face of adversity. And taking time to do that is an act whose importance is difficult to overestimate.

-- Patrick Foster

The Frames

Glen Hansard, the garrulous, shaggy, bug-eyed frontman for Dublin's the Frames, may not be a great songwriter, but he's generous and likable onstage, and those middling, twee songs of his never sound better than when played live at high volume. At the 9:30 club on Thursday night, Hansard and his five band mates used their excellent 24-song, 140-minute set to demonstrate at least a few things conclusively: Despite evidence to the contrary provided by the Dave Matthews Band, a violin player in a rock group can be a good thing. And although the Frames may not sell nearly as many records as Coldplay, they can ape U2's sound just as expertly. Frames fiddler Colm MacConlomaire spent much of the night in the stratospheric airspace usually reserved for the Edge, rescuing many an otherwise plain mid-tempo number -- be it a recent song such as "Falling Slowly" or a relative classic such as "Santa Maria" -- from oblivion.

After the band's 90-minute main set, MacConlomaire remained onstage alone for a short violin piece, followed by Hansard's solo take of "Leave," a -- surprise! -- heartsick ballad from the album he released with Czech singer Marketa Irglova last year. The band returned for a powerhouse sequence of "Revelate," "Fitzcarraldo," "Falling Slowly" and the syrupy fan-fave "Star Star."

Nobody would have felt cheated if they'd called it a night at that point, but as this was the last stop of the tour before their Coachella appearance and then home, Hansard was in a clownish mood. The pair of covers he called for next put the evening over the top: First came the Osmonds' "Crazy Horses," with the soundboard operator singing -- atrociously, but points for courage -- the chorus from behind his console, then Will Oldham's achingly beautiful "New Partner." Saying he didn't want applause because it would mean the tour was over, Hansard urged the crowd to file out while the band extended the Oldham ballad's mournful refrain of "you were always on my mind." Amazingly, almost everybody did. Hansard's good manners may make his songwriting a bit toothless, but they do get him what he asks for.

-- Chris Klimek

© 2007 The Washington Post Company