Bettye LaVette

| July 21, 2017

Bettye LaVette

Yoshi’s, Oakland, CA June 25, 2017

Reviewed by Steve Murray for Cabaret Scenes 

Bettye LaVette

There are very few performers who can plumb the depths of heartache, disappointment and disillusionment like the incomparable Bettye LaVette. Now riding a resurgent wave of much deserved critical and commercial acclaim, she rips through a hard rocking blues and R&B set like a hot knife through butter. Her fans are left exhausted and blown away by her energy and intensity levels that make her younger musical admirers stare in wonder.

Her band (Brett Lucas on guitar, Allen Hill on keys, James Simonson on bass, and Darryl Pierce on drums) lays down a nasty beat as LaVette spits out Eddie Hinton’s “I Still Want to Be Your Baby (Take Me As I Am).” She’s nobody’s fool and while getting kicked down emotionally, she’s resilient and strong. George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” with his poignant call for tolerance and peace is absolutely transformed into an angry indictment while retaining a semblance of hope. 

“Your Time to Cry” (Joe Simon/Raeford Gerald) illustrates LaVette’s early frustrations with the music industry; the song was to be the cornerstone of an unreleased album titled Child of the Seventies, but later released in 2000 as Souvenirs. Its deep southern soul ballad that exemplifies the woman done wronged blues that LaVette can sink her teeth into. From that same album, she takes John Prine’s bouncy country “Souvenirs” and transforms it into an emotionally devastating lamentation of loss, highlighted by the mournful slide guitar work by Lucas. Her rendition is a testament to the power of the blues and her commitment to expressing the deepness of universal emotions that fuel her repertoire.

Gratitude plays a role in LaVette’s career revival, brilliantly expressed in “Close As I’ll Get to Heaven,” an R&B classic from her 2003 album A Woman Like Me. She testifies in her growling, emotionally strained to her resilience and persistence. Her delivery is intense and powerful and optimistic. She makes her James Brown-like exit to the heavy beats of the band only to return for the song’s final bars: “so close to heaven.” It’s her reward for remaining true to her convictions and our joy to see the fruits of her longevity. Fifty-five years in the business and LaVette is as forceful and dynamic as ever. When she closes with the a cappella gospel-like hymn “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” (Sinead O’Connor), the audience can feel the sense of accomplishment this woman embodies. When she sings that “I‘ve got everything that I’ve requested,” her satisfaction is redemptive and a lesson to us all.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, Regional, San Francisco, San Francisco Cabaret Reviews

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