Shawn Colvin Serenades Sold-Out Landmark Audience

Carsie Blanton opens for the much loved Colvin

It was yet another great performance at on Saturday, Feb. 12, when Shawn Colvin performed for a sold-out crowd. While this evening’s performance was much lower key than last week’s Buckwheat Zydeco concert, it was no less magical.

The opening act was Carsie Blanton, a young, Philly-based singer-songwriter who resembled a slightly grown-up version of Annie (of comic strip fame), except with a head of tight dark curls rather than red. She proved to be quite a surprise. Her singing voice was high and little-girlish, but with a sultry edge – startling when she first began. Her vocal sound was very unusual. Blanton played the guitar and was accompanied by Joe Plowman on stand-up bass. Blanton’s songs defy categorization – she can’t quite be defined as folk, or rock, or pop, or cabaret… but perhaps some odd combination of all of the above. Her lyrics were witty and clever (“loving you is like kissing a chicken…”), and her delivery was perfect. I’ll admit that it was somewhat disconcerting to hear that little girl voice singing racy lyrics like “take off all your clothes,” but she could certainly pull off both the comedy aspect, and the sexiness. There was something about her that reminded me of a 1930s musical film star.

Blanton has played with such notables as Amos Lee, Nellie McKay, and Leon Redbone, as well as another Landmark connection – John Oates – who performed at the venue last fall. For such a young performer she had great stage presence, and was clearly comfortable both performing and talking to the audience. She prefaced her songs with entertaining stories about their creation, and her inspirations. Although she only has two CDs out so far, her sound is very unique and she’s someone to look out for in the future.

The headliner, Shawn Colvin, is an intelligent, emotionally-driven songwriter and a wonderfully talented guitarist. She’s one of the biggest names to appear at Landmark – and there have been many, many big names over the last few seasons especially. I have to admit that she has also been on my personal wish list to see for quite some time.

Colvin played sans band – just her and a guitar – but her proficient playing often made it sound as though it was more than one guitar playing. Colvin’s quiet and unassuming manner does not detract from the emotional power and lyrical strength of her songs. Like another Landmark favorite, Dar Williams, Colvin’s lyrics are smart and strong, and her melodies are interesting, often involving unusual guitar tunings. With almost 20 years with of CDs under her belt, Colvin had a wealth of material to choose from, and she played selections from her earliest CDs to her most recent ones.

Some standouts were “Trouble” and “Wichita Skyline” from her CD “A Few Small Repairs,” and “Diamond in the Rough” from her first CD, “Steady On.” Colvin also did a wonderful rendition of Neil Young’s “Tell Me Why,” which she had also performed two days earlier at a Neil Young tribute concert in New York City. Another excellent cover was her version of Tom Waits’ “Hold On,” which she referred to as a personal favorite. Throughout the concert, Colvin spoke to the audience, accepted requests (and, at one point, tissues), and seemed genuinely pleased to be performing. I thought she would save her biggest hit – “Sunny Came Home” – for an encore, but she did it as part of the main set instead.

For me, however, it was Colvin’s encore that was really the icing on the cake. It would have been worth the cost of admission to this concert solely for the three-song encore, comprised entirely of cover songs, with which she closed the show. I often speak of what I call “the Landmark connection,” when I find there are links between various acts that played at this venue. Some examples are how last season’s performers Suzanne Vega and Duncan Sheik both used the same extremely talented back-up guitarist, Gerry Leonard, or how Landmark favorite Joan Osborne was the producer of last season’s roots rock performers – The Holmes Brothers. Two of the three encores that Colvin performed had connections to previous shows at Landmark. The first was an absolutely stunning rendition of one of my favorite Beatles’ songs – “I’ll Be Back.” This isn’t a very well-known song, so I was surprised when I first heard The Holmes Brothers play it on the same stage last year, and I was surprised again when Colvin gave it a very different, and heart-wrenching, spin. Beautiful job. The second Landmark connection was her final encore – “If These Walls Could Speak” – a song written by Jimmy Webb who performed at Landmark just a few weeks ago. Rounding out the two Landmark connection songs was an innovative and wonderfully different version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” The theater was abuzz with shouts of “Bravo!” when Colvin concluded her performance, and I heartily agree. I hope she will return to Port Washington again soon so that the folks who were unable to get tickets to this sold-out show will have another chance.

The next “Fabulous Folk” concert will be Louden Wainwright III on Saturday, March 5.