Jazz Fest Thursday: Ladies First

I haven’t done the math, but it sure looked like Locals Thursday was Ladies Thursday. It was great to see two of the three main stages headlined by women—Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society and Florence + the Machine—but when female headliners are few and far between, it seems unfair to make fans choose.

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff. Photo by Kim Welsh.

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff. Photo by Kim Welsh.

Spalding’s lateness made it possible to see some of both, though neither entirely paid off in the sections I saw. Florence + the Machine at their best are hard to resist. “Rabbit Heart” is so catchy that all preciousness is irrelevant, and singer Florence Welch worked the crowd with energy, grace and enthusiasm. I think I walked up during the middle of her set, though, as they moved into less energetic material that a friend dubbed “Harry Potter-like.” The songs relied more on Welch’s remarkable voice, and that was plenty for many.

Spalding, similarly, made her tremendous charisma work for her. The show was part of her attempt to present a vision of jazz that is radio-friendly without compromise, and while the music was smart and accessible, it suggested that she didn’t listen to that much radio. Melodies disappeared far too quickly, though the jazz-funk grooves effectively engaged the audience.

In other news:

– Every time I see Hurray for the Riff Raff, I’m struck by Alynda Lee Segarra’s growth as a vocalist. On the Acura Stage, she was a clear, powerful vocal presence, but her power isn’t her thing. She’s also vocally nuanced. She introduced “Take Me” as a dance number, and as upbeat as the song is, the lyrics suggest an abusive relationship. Segarra sings “You can throw me to the ground” with a hint of fierceness and a subtle undercurrent of sadness without ever stepping on the emotion to simplify a complex emotion.

– Rock ‘n’ Roll Moment: Glen Hansard was likely booked to play the Acura Stage because he was the opening act on Eddie Vedder’s tour, but Vedder’s cancellation didn’t mean Hansard was out too. He performed solo, but for a set-closing cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Drive All Night,” he invited a member of the stage crew to play drums on the song. “Joe” clearly had some musical background, likely playing metal. He started building the energy too early, and Hansard suggested he reign it in so he’d have room to grow. The crowd rose and fell with Joe’s progress, and the version of “Drive All Night” was really good too.

– This year’s world music bookings at Jazz Fest have been spot-on. Cheick Hamala Diabate and Chico Trujillo both killed on the Jazz and Heritage Stage, though Trujillo’s stage show made me wonder if I was seeing the Mighty Mighty Bosstones of Chile.

– There’s nothing like watching the moment when a show takes off. It was obvious in Dayna Kurtz‘s set in the Lagniappe Stage. The set started fine, but the third song was a blues song, “Do I Love You,” introduced by John Gros, who sat in on organ. Kurtz picked up on the feel in his accompaniment and moved heart and soul into the lyric, feeling the song as if she wrote it. That commitment carried over to a couple red-hot rockabilly and rockin’ blues numbers including “Lou Lou Knows” with Robert Mache’s guitar playing fueling the fire.

Photos from Thursday at Jazz Fest