Tracy Chapman's show at the 9:30 club on Monday would have been more pleasant if only her fans adored her tunes as much as they adore her. Whenever Chapman strayed from her most familiar material, enough folks in the crowd talked or shouted catcalls to overpower her sweet and fragile voice.
At 41, Chapman no longer depends on anthems to the degree she did when she broke out of Boston as the future of female folk in 1988. Accompanist Joe Gore added eerie Daniel Lanois-like guitar fills to "Change," a song from her latest CD, "Where You Live," that has Chapman pondering life's meaning in ways a college freshman might: "If you knew that you would die today, if you saw the face of God and love, would you change?" she sang.
With help from her single-named drummer, Quinn, Chapman replaced the folkie pop slant of "Why?," a song that appeared on her debut LP, with a hip-hop pop slant. She covered the traditional "House of the Rising Sun" with its standard melody intact, but added a spacey pace and oodles of echo to Gore's lap-steel guitar noodling. A cover of the Cure's "Love Song" suffered from an overabundance of earnestness, and a bored crowd buzz.
Fans could make all the noise they wanted and still not disrupt Chapman's revised "Give Me One Reason," which she rearranged, seemingly on the fly, from its original blues format into a rockabilly burner. The change of pace appeared to surprise even her bandmates.
"Fast Car," her signature tune and a song that once tried to empower the powerless, still can crush a crowd emotionally: "I had a feeling that I belonged, I had a feeling I could be someone," Chapman sang, and most fans sang with her.
Some songs don't wear as well as they once did. On "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution," which like "Fast Car" came from her debut record, Chapman and a crowd that paid $40 a head sang lines such as "Poor people gonna rise up and take what's theirs!" with smiles, not clenched fists.
-- Dave McKenna
Their record company bills the Detroit Cobras as a hard-living garage band, and sure enough, lead singer Rachel Nagy did not waste any time in asking for vodka when she arrived onstage with her band at Iota on Monday night. But when the former stripper launched into an a cappella version of "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" as the opening number, her raspy, passionate vocals quickly showed that it is her skills more than her persona that make the Cobras relevant.
First known for transforming obscure '50s and '60s R&B tunes into high-speed garage rock, Nagy and company expand their palette on their latest release, "Baby." Demonstrating that versatility live, Nagy, sounding like Ronnie Spector, gorgeously caressed the strong melody of Allen Toussaint's "Mean Man" and the call-and-response gospel of Pops Staples's "You Don't Knock."
The Cobras, though, are not yet going mainstream. The bleached-blonde Nagy was chain-smoking, making jokes about Republicans and urging audience members to get naked. With Greg Cartwright, the guitarist from opening act the Reigning Sound joining Cobras guitarist Mary Ramirez, the combo delivered plenty of its bread-and-butter raucousness.
The two added fuzz tone to the likes of Hank Ballard's "Cha Cha Twist" and Otis Redding's "Shout Bama Lama" as Nagy happily drawled the verses and the drummer banged away.
The Reigning Sound, a trio from Memphis, began the evening with a lengthy set of 1966-inspired three-chord rock as Cartwright, on guitar and vocals, energetically controlled the spotlight. Despite a number of effective three-minute romps, the Sound's formulaic arrangements sometimes became a tad repetitive. -- Steve Kiviat