Julia Fordham
at Joe's Pub,
New York City, NY
(10 July 2002)
& at the Tin Angel,
Philadelphia, PA
(14 July 2002)

Julia Fordham brought her "Through the Roof Tour" to New York City in support of her new Concrete Love CD; July 10 was the first of two sold-out dates at Joe's Pub. The set offered 9 of the 11 new songs, as well as some old favorites, mostly from her first two albums. For New York, Julia was backed by a most wonderful five-piece band who treated the fans to definitive versions of everything they played.

"It's Another You Day" was the perfect show opener with its joyous guitar setting the tone and the rest of the band jumping right in. On "Love," Julia's voice sounded even deeper and more sultry than on record (if that's possible) and instantly knocked out every man in the room, -- and likely many of the women, too. At this point I'll also mention that the one-button shirt look was totally working for Julia (see the cover of Concrete Love). With Julia in prime voice and the band in fine form, it was somewhat of a shock to learn that, only two hours before the show, Julia had totally lost her voice. She blamed guitarist Mark Goldenberg for giving her the flu and fever that had ravaged her vocal chords. As she described it, a last-minute treatment by Celine Dion's throat doctor (thanks to quick action by Julia's manager, Lori Leve), including a cortisone shot to the nether region, saved the day. This information (and more) came as an introduction to the Minnie Riperton standard "Lovin' You," which she was worried that she would not be able to pull off. She did in fact hit all the notes, providing a lovely prelude to "Roadside Angel" and the story about what led her to write it as a tribute to Minnie and her husband. If she had not mentioned it to the audience, no one would ever have known she was sick; her performance was impeccable throughout.

There were plenty of endearing stories as Julia provided background on many of the songs. "Italy," for example, came from a visit to that country and a restaurant dinner during which she was the subject of relentless flirtation by the waiter. Although very tempted, her head prevailed over her heart as she tells it, and later that night, back in her hotel room, Julia wrote the song; the waiter's loss being unquestionably our gain. Before singing "Wake Up With You (the I Wanna Song)" she told the most engaging story about having her mom in the audience at a prior show, and how mom did not quite approve of the lyrics. Julia imitated her in a very proper British mom voice saying, "Jooo-leeyah, that song does not behooove you." We can all rest easier knowing that mom was eventually won over by this wonderful song. Julia's performance of "Wake Up With You," as on record, was inspired, exuberant and triumphant. The song offers up a lengthy want list, not unlike the claims staked by Lucinda Williams in "Passionate Kisses." For the record, "I want to get lucky, I want to get laid" may have contributed to mom's discomfort, but Julia's transcendent delivery of lines like "I want to fly like a bird, I want to sing and be heard, I want a room with a view, I want to wake up with you" can't help but make it all OK. Before singing "Concrete Love" Julia told the story of how India.Arie offered to add her vocals to the song ("that's my jam"), including an account of how on short notice she joined Julia on stage in Atlanta to sing "Concrete Love."

Old favorites such as "Happy Ever After" and "Porcelain" were a joy to hear. "Genius" was a surprise treat, performed in its full Brazilian splendor with the assistance of guest percussionist Alex Alexander. All of the band members were in top form, including Mark Goldenberg, a guitarist's guitarist who has worked with Karla Bonoff, Valerie Carter, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and Aimee Mann (to name just a few), not to mention his '80s band, the Cretones. Jeff Young played keyboards; his credits include Chris Botti, Jackson Browne and he played on Julia's East West album. Jay Bellerose on drums was in perfect synch with bassist Jennifer Condos, both on and as a couple offstage. Jay's worked with Paula Cole, Holly Palmer and Suzanne Vega; Jennifer's credits include Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen and Joe Henry.

One song had to be dropped from the set in deference to the fact that the show had already gone long, and the room had to be cleared to make way for a later show by Richard Thompson. She did have time for one encore song, however, which she introduced by saying that after 9-11 she initially thought she should quit performing it, but later reconsidered; she proceeded to absolutely floor the New York crowd with a powerful and heartfelt "Manhattan Skyline."

Four days later at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia, Julia performed with backing only by Mark Goldenberg on electric guitar; Julia also played acoustic on some of the songs, and provided some nice rhythm backup with a neat little maraca-like device that fit in the palm of her hand. With the group arrangements stripped away, the essence of the songwriting and the amazing power of Julia's voice was even more evident, as were Mark Goldenberg's superb guitar contributions. Julia's vocals are so strong, that her songs would still sound right sung a cappella.

Earlier that day, Julia did an in-store appearance at Borders in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and she was approached there by a fan who introduced himself as a saxophone player and music teacher. Julia had a good feeling about him, so she asked him to bring his sax to the show, and she invited him onstage to play sax on one song. She brought him back onstage again for the encore, along with four ladies from the audience who Julia dubbed "The Philly Clickers" as they had sung along with every song and impressed Julia with their finger snapping ability. When she said that the Philly gig was her favorite, it sounded completely sincere; not the usual stage banter. The Tin Angel may be a small club, but the response from the sell-out crowd was huge.

[ by William Kates ]
Rambles: 7 September 2002