At the end of her performance at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Saturday afternoon, singer Nancy Wilson received a bouquet of roses and standing ovation after standing ovation -- enough to inspire a series of encores and make one wonder whether the audience was convinced she'd never come to town again.
Rumors of her retirement have been circulating for some time now, and indeed Wilson has cut back on touring after more than 50 years on the road. But she made no mention of slowing down, and she certainly didn't look, act or sing like someone ready to price a rocking chair. Her voice, though sometimes engulfed by amplification, sounded vibrant and pliable, shifting back and forth between pop ballads and swing pulses.
As always, dramatic narratives served her well, and none better than her signature cheating song "Guess Who I Saw Today?" Wilson still milks this soap operetta for all it's worth, and when she thanked men everywhere for making the song "still valid" after all these years, women in the audience erupted with cheers and laughter. There was plenty of reason to applaud other performances as well, no matter what your sex, including Wilson's distinctive (and vocally challenging) rendering of "Blame It on My Youth" and her zestful take on "How Long Has This Been Going On?"
Of course, Wilson could only skim the surface of her extraordinary recording career during the concert, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society. Many of the songs were drawn from her latest CD, "R.S.V.P.," rearranged and crisply performed by her longtime trio mates: pianist Llew Matthews, bassist John B. Williams and drummer Roy McCurdy.
-- Mike Joyce
Four years ago, former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt contracted an extremely uncomfortable illness of his perineum. His latest album, "The Secondman's Middle Stand," documents his pain and recovery, and on Friday night at the Black Cat, Watt performed the songs in the order in which they appear on the album, turning the experience into a rock opera.
Watt hollered his head off all night, his hand bouncing off the strings in his trademark bass assault as he relived the agony of his illness, from his defiant shouts of "No!" on "Boilin' Blazes" to relearning how to play bass post-malady ("Angels Gate"). But Watt didn't wallow in self-pity, masking his pain behind catchy organ hooks with a bouncy, almost braggart, singalong chorus ("I puked to high heaven!").
Although all three musicians (Watt, drummer Raul Morales and organist Pete Mazich) played at the edge of the stage, their energy seemed to dissipate in the big room, and the already sparse crowd thinned even more during the group's set. But the audience whooped with full force for the group's encore, a quartet of more crowd-pleasing covers, from Dylan's "It's Allright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" to a longtime Watt favorite, Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red and the Black."
When someone in the crowd asked Watt his thoughts on President Bush, Watt responded, "John Fogerty wasn't born on the bayou. Music is about pretending; don't let a pretender tell you how to think." Rather than ranting, Watt launched into the Minutemen's "This Ain't No Picnic."
-- Catherine P. Lewis
De La Soul
De La Soul's distinguished career has been showered with praise by critics and fans, so it's no shocker that Friday night's sold-out 9:30 club show should produce a downpour of accolades. The gig was yet another captivating trek into the sonic psyche of one of history's most enjoyably intelligent rap acts.
Although the trio of heady rhymers Pos and Dave, along with DJ Maseo, have separately relocated from their former New York residences, Friday's energizing set showed no lack of cohesion.
"Verbal Clap's" recorded soundtrack crashed through the club's system while the MCs proposed a venerable hip-hop challenge for fellow rhymers to battle them "beat for beat and rhyme for rhyme."
Concertgoers erupted at hearing notable early cuts, including "Potholes in My Lawn," "Buddy" and the truly goofy yet hugely popular "Me, Myself and I."
Pulling from De La Soul's stellar new disc, "The Grind Date," Dave was so awed by his partner's stunning words on "Rock Co.Kane Flow" that he asked him to repeat them three times. Pos obliged, taking on rap rivals and eventually hitting the floor in mock exhaustion. "Unlike them," he rapped of lackluster hip-hoppers, "we craft gems" -- a dead-on observation in an intoxicating show that was another sparkler in a sizable collection.
-- Craig Smith