The Sept. 26 Style review of a Madeleine Peyroux performance incorrectly said that her record label hired a private investigator in August because it could not locate the artist. Peyroux was not missing and the fabricated story was circulated by a publicist in Britain, according to an executive with her U.S. record label. (Published 9/28/2005)
The encore is something of a farce in contemporary popular music. After the initial walk-off round of thank you/good night, more music is inevitable; it's even written in the set lists. And yet, the audience plays along by hooting itself silly -- as if the sustained cheering matters.
But every now and again, you stumble across a performer whose return to the stage really does seem like an uncertainty. Take Madeleine Peyroux, who sings mostly of heartache and yearning with a fragile, raspy alto that's strikingly reminiscent of Billie Holiday's. Peyroux has been showered with critical praise, and she's adored by a few hundred thousand fans who've no doubt placed her latest album, "Careless Love," on the same part of the CD rack that holds the work of Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall et al.
For all that Peyroux has going for her, though, she appears to be more than a little uneasy onstage. Saturday night at Lisner Auditorium, the native of Athens, Ga., chattered nervously between songs and often averted her eyes. She also fidgeted with her scarf when she wasn't holding her safety blanket of an acoustic guitar; smiled very little; and pretty much looked like she'd rather be anywhere but there. (Thankfully, she hardly sounded like it. But still.)
After all those awkward moments and 15 riveting and rapturous songs, Peyroux walked off the stage with her terrific backing trio -- and there was actual suspense over whether she'd return.
How appropriate. After all, this is the same artist who'd only recently emerged from self-imposed music industry exile. Following the smashing success of her 1996 debut, "Dreamland," released when she was just 22, Peyroux dropped off the grid for nearly seven years.
No albums. No tours. No interviews. Nothing but busking on the streets of Paris, where she'd moved with her mother at the age of 13, following her parents' divorce.
Peyroux eventually resurfaced to make "Careless Love," which was released last year, but there's still a tortured-artistness about her that makes people twitchy. After she didn't check in with her record label last month, the suits there were so fearful that they hired a private investigator to find her. (Turns out she was in New York with her manager. Oops.)
Anyway, Saturday night, a couple of minutes into a long and loud ovation at Lisner, Peyroux ended the suspense when she peeked at the audience from the wings, then reemerged for a one-song curtain call, a cover of "Destination Moon." She even smiled.
"Thanks for keeping us dreaming," she said before starting into the whimsical jazz classic whose cheery lyrics were somewhat atypical for the evening; mostly, Peyroux focused on heart-sore songs associated with (if not always written by) other artists.
There was the down-tempo blues of Bessie Smith's "Don't Cry Baby," the stark Elliott Smith mood piece "Between the Bars," Gene Austin's lightly swinging "Lonesome Road" and Patsy Cline's loping "Walking After Midnight" -- what's not to love about an artist who expertly interprets Bessie and Elliott Smith?
Showing that she's hardly a traditional chanteuse, Peyroux also performed Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" and Leonard Cohen's sweet ballad "Dance Me to the End of Love." Take that, Norah Jones!
Hank Williams's "Weary Blues" was perhaps the perfect showcase for Peyroux, with its stripped-down arrangement and low-volume instrumental accompaniment from Paul Nagel (Fender Rhodes keyboard), Scott Amendola (percussion) and Matt Penman (upright bass). Whereas many singers might show off their frilly vocal tricks and raw power, Peyroux displayed terrific control and an admirable economy of vocals, not to mention the nuanced phrasing that earned the Lady Day comparisons in the first place.
"Weary blues from waitin'," Peyroux sang. "Lord, I've been waitin' too long."
So have we, Madeleine. So have we.