We are all confronted with the concept of cool and the actual reality of it. Either when we were young and foolishly delved into the latest fashion craze or delve into when we get a little older without understanding the context it never worked quite the way you wanted it to. The reason tends to be that the people we try to emulate pull off cool effortlessly. At Southpaw on March third, Imelda May, continued that trend by playing a conquering set of effortless cool rockabilly and owning every inch of the stage.
Before we kick into the headlining set of Imelda May, we were treated to an interesting set by The Madison Square Gardeners. A five piece throwback rock ‘n’ roll act that aimed to make catchy sing-alongs culled from influences that included the British Invasion, garage rock and other American influences including Blues and 80’s rock. The veneer of believability was there but soon it started wearing away.
The cool disappeared and what we were left with was a band trying to find its identity.
That’s not a knock on their talent as the band can play and develop some nice melodies. There were plenty of solos and good energy. There just seemed something off about the ordeal. It felt like an attempt at irony, almost trying too hard to be the image of a rock star we have been accustomed to seeing. You know? Skinny ties, vests, pressed shirts and skinny jeans. Lucky we are in Brooklyn and irony is a second language and can be at times a currency.
Songs like “Everybody’s Girl” and “On the Run” cover the tropes of rock ‘n’ roll and try to garner an image of living life fast and sometimes not choosing the best method. The band does not take itself too seriously which is a good thing as there seems to be too many things that seem calculated from rock star poses, a song featuring dad’s approval, having an arsenal of Gretsch’s on stage, and on the closer “All the Roads Back Home” features the lead singer to take a drink of water and leading the band into a passionate outro.
The disconnect between the energy on stage and the audience faded away as Imelda May, in a green dress and trademark hairdo, stepped up to the mic.
Imelda May favors the simple stage set up, featuring a backing band which included a standing bass, guitar, drums and a horn.
The band is flawless with all the members adding up to be larger than just five members. Whether it is May stepping away from the mic cheering, clapping, and hollering at her band members with approval she is constantly dancing and clapping, channeling the muse and energy. As much as the spotlight may be on her (and especially after her awesome Grammy’s performance with Jeff Beck), May diverted plenty of attention and shone the light on her band. Each member took turns performing solos and man was it tasty.
Dave Prisemen can blow, in the best way possible. His horn tore through Southpaw and May was standing aside gleefully cheering him on. Darrel Higham can play some mean rockabilly and his guitar playing was effortless. The rhythm section was particularly fierce with Al Gare playing a bouncing bass and laying down a great foundation. Steve Rushton on drums was fantastic and had his time in the spotlight with a solo that was worth of Animal from The Muppets.
May’s vocals were silky smooth and reminiscent of some of the great Blues singers. It has a hint of rasp, a slight huskiness that gives the songs a full bodied feel and plenty of character. May’s vocals were met with catcalls and cheers from the adoring audience. May’s personality and charm came out when responding to the audience and some fun lyrics including her being a “sneaky freak”. She also showed off her affectionate side
with songs like “Big Bad Handsome Man” and “Falling in Love with You Again” dedicated to her husband (Higham on guitar).
Songs like “Love Tattoo” and “Smokers’ Song” stomped and rollicked, it was a fun night out with energy to spare. Fans coming in to see what the fuss was all about left impressed and stunned by the way her voice filled Southpaw. She was the epitome of cool and most everyone was under her spell. You would follow her gaze as it focused on her fellow bandmates or after she pulled off a tough vocal feat.
This was a master class in being a star, and hopefully the MSGers stuck around and took in this graduate level class on cool. She wrapped up her main set with “Johnny Got a Boom Boom”. Her encore included a cover of “Tainted Love” and with performances like the Grammy’s, owning an intimate place like Southpaw and a new album on its way, expect to hear the name of Imelda May soon. She is just that cool.
Guest contributor: Charles Poladian
Checkout Imelda’s critically acclaimed 2009 release Love Tattoo: