Dido depends far less on artifice than other pop stars known for the sort of overproduced pop at which she's become expert. From start to finish of her 95-minute set at a sold-out Constitution Hall on Saturday, the 32-year-old Englishwoman wore a Regular Gal outfit of jeans, red camisole and comfy sandals.
And though she can't dance all that great, Dido didn't try to hide her not-so-smooth moves behind a troupe of dancers as so many other diva types would. Dido doesn't appear to love performing before crowds, but she occasionally allowed herself to get lost in the music. During the catchy "Sand in My Shoes," for example, she closed her eyes and waved her left arm over her head, looking for a time as if she were enjoying a mechanical bull ride. Like much of Dido's material, that tune is carried by a light Euro-disco beat, and conjures Enya after coffee or Alison Moyet before.
Dido, which is her real first name, writes almost all of her own material. She doesn't pretend to find her craft terribly taxing. She admitted to the mostly young and overwhelmingly female crowd that the song that made her an international star, "Thank You," was "written in the bath, and it took about 20 minutes." Most Americans didn't come to know of her until Eminem sampled portions of that track for use in his platinum rap, "Stan," which told of a fanatical fan's worship of a pop singer. Eminem's cautionary tale has apparently stuck with Dido: When a zealous audience member near the stage tried to pass his phone number to her as she sang "Here With Me," she didn't fake being flattered. "Freak!" she shrieked.
She promised that "Mary's in India," a song that finds her bragging about stealing a friend's boyfriend, was fiction. She seemed upset that listeners sometimes misunderstand her lyrics. "This is absolutely not a love song," she said about "Don't Leave Home." "It's about addiction." She lets her voice crack softly every few lines for effect, but sometimes mumbles, too. It's hard, for example, to tell if she's singing that she will or won't "go down with the ship" during the chorus of her big hit "White Flag." Either way, it's a fab chorus.
-- Dave McKenna
Rite of Strings
How fast did Rite of Strings execute octave-leaping passages during its 10th anniversary reunion concert at Wolf Trap on Saturday night? Only someone with the sonic equivalent of a radar gun knows for sure.
In fusion jazz circles, speed thrills, which partly explains the numerous standing ovations guitarist Al DiMeola, bassist Stanley Clarke and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty received during the evening. At one point, after revisiting sections of Ponty's "Memory Canyon" at a breakneck clip, Clarke confessed: "Some of that stuff does hurt our fingers, in case you were wondering."
Fortunately, the acoustic (though heavily amplified) performance was enlivened by something other than finger-busting virtuosity. Genuine camaraderie, evident from the outset, became a big plus as a series of playful exchanges and spirited games of one-upsmanship dotted the arrangements. The genial mood eventually spilled over into a cleverly reworked version of Clarke's funk anthem "School Days," which found the composer trading in his upright bass for an acoustic bass guitar.
There wasn't much new ensemble material. The show opened with Ponty soulfully embellishing "Indigo" and closed with a vibrantly woven reprise of DiMeola's "Mediterranean Sundance." Yet "Song for John" -- a tribute to John Coltrane composed by Clarke and Chick Corea -- took on fresh meaning and verve when Clarke dedicated the performance to Coltrane Quartet drummer Elvin Jones, who died last month.
Generating colorful contrasts were three solo interludes. DiMeola's turn was breathtakingly exquisite at times, but none proved more engaging than Clarke's contribution on upright bass, which incorporated everything from dramatic flamenco-style strums to a menacing John Lee Hooker boogie pulse.
-- Mike Joyce
Jonny Lang began performing as lead guitarist in blues bands at age 13, made his first record at 15 and received a Grammy nomination at 19. His exceptional ability at an early age earned him the label of child prodigy, and cynical purists waited for the skinny kid from the unlikely blues hotbed of Fargo, N.D., to fade away.
Now even the cynics are believers, and for good reason: Lang, 23, is a certified guitar phenomenon who it seems will keep the blues flame burning for a couple of generations.
His show at Wolf Trap Friday was remarkably pretense-free as he lead his band through up-tempo blue-eyed soul and brassy Muscle Shoals stylings. His eyes closed throughout, Lang, who uses no guitar pick, got impressive, dramatic solos from his electric guitar that transcended the cold and wet of the night. His voice, which had an aged quality even in his teens, has matured into an evocative, weathered instrument.
While Lang did the bulk of the heavy lifting, Bruce McCabe's singular keyboard fills and second guitarist Paul Diethelm's own furious solos added layers of texture to the tunes.
True, some of the songs were a bit like the generic stuff they play as you leave a movie theater, but that may be an effort by Lang's management to take him further into the mainstream. His handlers shouldn't try so hard. Lang's best when he's playing instinctively rather than by calculation.
-- Buzz McClain
Rickie Lee Jones
Performance energy might have made up for technical problems. A good sound mix might have boosted a tentative performance. But the evening of what was very much not Rickie Lee Jones's best day made for an uncomfortable show Friday at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis.
Maybe micromanagement was at fault. Jones had clearly worked out specific plans for her four band members, and although they didn't have charts in front of them, it seemed as if Jones would have preferred that, as she barked orders and made asides to the crowd about making them play as a unit.
It started early, with vocal mikes that sounded little better than a school PA system. Jones bailed on her third number when she found her 12-string wasn't in tune. But the six-string she used for much of the show was totally inaudible, as were most of the keyboards. Then the percussion overwhelmed what should have been a delicate mix on songs like the folk-rocker "Sailor Song," from Jones's latest, "The Evening of My Best Day." Up-tempo numbers like "Young Blood" were a bit more forgiving, and once Jones moved to piano, she managed fairly entertaining versions of "The Horses" and "Coolsville." A scathing song about George W. Bush, the jazzy "Ugly Man," was also a standout. And her bebop version of "On the Street Where You Live" was one of the night's strongest moments -- maybe because Jones knew she was leaving the stage immediately afterward.
-- Pamela Murray Winters
Today's teen idols are as cute as ever, but a little meaner than they used to be. Pinup-worthy L.A. quintet Rooney, which drew a predominantly young, female crowd to the 9:30 club Friday, plays amiable pop-rock, yet a lot of its songs are about being cruel to girls. "I'm a terrible person / 'Cause I've led her on," admitted frontman Robert Carmine in the band's second tune, which came about 45 minutes before the set-closing apology to a neglected girlfriend "for making your life a living hell." When not issuing such confessions, Carmine led the band through bouncy numbers about depression ("Blue Side'') and nervous breakdowns ("Shakin' '').
Carmine repeatedly encouraged his fans to sing along, and they did so enthusiastically, perhaps realizing that the singer and sometime guitarist is just playing a role. Utterly a creature of Tinseltown, Rooney was named after the principal in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and owes much of its stature to an appearance on "The O.C." Carmine has an impeccable Hollywood pedigree: He is the brother of actor-musician Jason Schwartzman (late of Phantom Planet) and appeared in "The Virgin Suicides," which was directed by his cousin Sofia Coppola.
On Rooney's self-titled debut, the band's '70s-rooted music sounds like a harder-edged version of Badfinger. Onstage, there was a bit more Bad Company in the mix, largely because of guitarist Taylor Locke's swaggering leads. Even during the several new songs, however, the group didn't alter the essential balance between ingratiating melody and questionable attitude.
-- Mark Jenkins