Salisbury Arts Centre
25th March 2001
This was written back in 2001 and lost in the depths of my hard drive. I brought it back out after Michelle Shocked’s March 2013 tirade against gays in San Francisco. The last paragraph but one is relevent. In a recent UNCUT magazine there was an article on certain musicians whose unpleasant behavior had limited their success, and the magazine coined the graphic phrase that they “had c*nted themselves out of a career.” Michelle Shocked seems to have done that a few times.
I was in Salisbury to see Michelle Shocked. Tremendous performance (two hours forty minutes AND she started on time). Her excellent four piece band was herself on rhythm guitar, plus the lead guitarist from Hothouse Flowers, pedal steel doubling on bass, trumpet doubling on bass. You could see she called what she wanted when she wanted, by the rapid change over of who was playing bass after she’d started each song. Someone called for Graffitti Limbo, and she did it, to the surprise of her band, but they coped. It’s a reminder of how hard a drummerless band can rock, and she’s certainly eclectic. Material from her forthcoming album was stunningly good – up there with “Short Sharp Shocked”.
When she took the inevitable request for ‘Anchorage’ the bass player pretended to wind her up like a mechanical toy and she started like a marionette, which was OK, but generally I don’t think it’s too clever to crap on your meal ticket. For sure, everyone there wanted to hear it, and that’s why the place was full. On the ‘Inside Job Live’ DVD, Don Henley does a trombone version of Hotel California which showed a positive way of dealing with the same problem. On doing The Weight every time you appeared in public, Levon Helm said how you had to appreciate the audience’s need to hear it, be grateful and give it your best. And the man was of course totally correct (not that he ever applied it to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down). Levon Helm and Garth Hudson backed her on The Letterman show in 1992 and she toured with the Band, but fell out acrimoniously with them.
It was a strange venue. It was a huge medieval church (St Edmund’s) deconsecrated, and converted into an arts centre, as Salisbury has a plethora of beautiful medieval churches, including the Cathedral, the tallest medieval building in Europe. Michelle kept calling the venue a “cathedral” which was about half a mile wrong. It seemed as if the venue genuinely affected her. There are more churches in the city than you’d be able to fill if the Last Trump were to be announced on the ten o’clock news, and this is good use for one of them. It was strange seeing picnic tables in the churchyard among the marble flat topped tombs, which looked like somewhat grander picnic tables. She was playing facing a huge medieval stained glass window. She announced that the bass player had done all the sightseeing in the afternoon.
I was fascinated by how she managed to convert “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” into a spontaneous rap on Foot & Mouth disease. OK, it sounds weird when you say it, but Salisbury is the centre of a farming area, and lives on tourism. She managed to make genuine points about how far something like this could kill a town, just as the coal trains ceasing to stop had killed the town in her song. And it was localized. Brilliant.
On the downside, she has an anger-control problem. At one point she asked the audience to clap their hands and get into the music. Well, she’d just been doing quiet thoughtful stuff, and you have to engineer a change of mood. You don’t simply instruct the audience that now is the time to get up and leap about (it was standing, and very close packed anyway). So she disapproved of the clapping. And decided to tell the audience that it was one of the worst audiences she’d played to and the fucking English couldn’t clap. Nice one. She’d done such a good show that she got away with it, but we were up front and there’s a joke, and there’s meaning it. She meant it. And English audiences do tend to clap on the on beat. Live with it.
Her show is even better in retrospect and they were selling a “dub” version of her next album too. I do have all her albums, but this gig confirmed that I’ll buy all that appear in future.