Concert Highlights: Jane Siberry, 11/18/14


No, Jane. I didn’t mean, when I said it was like seeing you for the first time—30-plus years ago—that you aren’t any different now. What I meant is that your new band show is as spellbinding as the first one in terms of presentation—and music, of course.

At least, I think that’s what I meant, now that I think about it: That incredible show at The Bottom Line, when you came out with a band and the two female backup singers, and the three of you had those microphones that you wear around your head so you can move around. To this day it was one of the most memorable shows I ever saw.

Anyway, I told this to Jane Siberry in the Green Room after her hour-long show at the East Side apartment of prominent, if not notorious, New York criminal defense attorney Gerald Shargel. Said Green Room was really an office/study lined with incredible photos of Che Guevara, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Joan and Martin Luther King, and the like. Also framed on one end of the room was the famous Milton Glaser psychedelic poster that was included in the 1967 Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits album, which I used to have tacked up in my bedroom, you know, the one with the multi-colored hair on the black silhouette.

Framed on the other end were the somewhat famous—if you’re a New Yorker–New York Post front pages of secretly taped John Gotti quotes railing against his defense attorneys, of which Gerry—and I hope it’s okay to call him Gerry, since we’re all Friends of Jane–was one. Presumably, Gerry never turned the Teflon Don on to Jane.

But Gerry had previously turned on a number of his friends to Jane and other highest quality music acts by holding these “salon” concerts at his home. This was Jane’s second appearance, and she remembered one of the 25 listeners in the living room from her first one a couple years ago, and that legendary New York columnist Jimmy Breslin had been there as well.

She came out with longtime collaborator/bandleader/pianist/composer Peter Kiesewalter, cellist Kevin Fox, and backup singers Ali Hughes—who met Jane in her native Australia when Jane did a salon there—and Rebecca Jenkins, like everyone else, a Canadian—whom I saw with Jane that first time at the Bottom Line.

There! That’s what I meant about how it was like seeing you for the first time! Even though all the music was different—but just as great!

Gerry introduced Jane by noting that her biggest album, When I Was a Boy, which includes her most famous song “Calling All Angels,” was one of his Desert Island Discs. I told him later that I’m thanked on that album next to John Lennon. I also told him that I always say how when you think of John Lennon, of course, you immediately think of Jim Bessman, but in all honesty, I’ve never said that to May Pang.

Jane started by saying how her job was to make us all forget, the best we could, what we were thinking about for 60 minutes. She began with “All we like sheep have gone astray” from Handel’s Messiah, this salon being a preview of her upcoming Holiday Hoes and Hosers tour—though Jane explained that it’s really simply about garden tools. She also pointed out that in Handel’s case, the entire Messiah was written two weeks prior to its first performance in a pub—with people likely calling out for beer by the time they got to the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

“That’s the way I like things to be—real,” she said, and real it was in Gerry’s living room, where Christmas came early. Other seasonal songs included “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which she released on her 2003 album Shushan the Palace (Hymns of Earth), and a personal favorite, “Hockey,” from 1989’s Bound by the Beauty, in which Jenkins jingled a tambourine, and Hughes hit a block to the lyric “You skate as fast as you can ’til you hit the snowbank–that’s how you stop.”

“People from Canada and cold climates really fly into it,” Jane said of the song. I’m from Wisconsin.

She also sang When I Was a Boy’s ethereal “Love is Everything,” so beautiful with Kiesewalter’s piano backing, and a few songs from her upcoming album Consider the Lilies, a single-CD summary of her three-album trilogy Dragon Dreams (2008), With What Shall I Keep Warm? (2009) and Meshach Dreams Back (2011), mixing music and spoken word in songs like “When We Are Queen” and “Then We Heard a Shout.”

“It’s about questioning how we keep ourselves warm–if we let go of everything,” she explained, noting that the title derives from the Gospel of Matthew’s instruction in regard to material provisions.

“Is there anyone who is Jewish who’s offended by ‘Savior’ songs?” she asked Gerry, who assured her no, to which she added, “They offend me, and I’m a Christian!” But she loves the “beautiful old Christmas songs, with beautiful melodies and images of donkeys and stars” that have long since been banned from public schools because of religious content.

“I wrote a song that I hoped was neutral that kids could learn—that’s been done by choruses,” she said, leading into and closing with her very beautiful and “neutral” “Are You Burning, Little Candle?,” from Child: Music for the Holidays (1997).

She encored, of course, with “Calling All Angels,” after relating that when she recorded it with k.d. lang in separate vocal booths, both realized at the same time that they needed to come out and sing together next to each other, despite the producer’s preference to keep them apart and stanch any audio bleeding.

“There’s so much more you can get when you’re singing and playing music in close proximity,” she said.

“Calling All Angels” over, I suddenly remembered what it was I was thinking about 60 minutes earlier.

Just like the first time, Jane.

Trust me: Don’t miss any of her Holiday Hoes and Hosers shows.