The air in the quadruple-volume foyer of the Baxter Theatre is filled with whispers from characters past: snippets of a lonely cello practicing in a rehearsal room 20 years ago, bits-and-pieces of plays – both good and bad, well-received and not-so-much. When I go to the Baxter, I like to go early, to watch this space fill slowly, with people and noise, pre-show.
Tonight, though, the space was filled with people when I arrived, because the show started early and I was late, having missed the first act due to work traffic. Argh. Eavesdropping amongst the crowd – a mix of mainly skinny-jeaned hipsters and 40-somethings – I heard that she was brilliant. I’d never heard of her before, but will watch out and hopefully catch her somewhere else – SAMA-nominated Tailor.
It was the Rolling Stone Original Voices concert. When a friend told me the bill, I almost fell off my chair. Sara Blasko, Willy Mason and Cat Power. All of them. On one night. No time for falling out of chairs in dramatic surprise, tickets needed to be booked. It’s really hard not to just gush after going to a concert like this so forgive me, please, I am about to gush.
Firstly, the Baxter Concert Hall is gorgeous in a 70s-designed kind-of-a-way. With its wood-panelled walls hugging you and its incredible sun-like concrete ceiling (presumably for good acoustics) it is, as my friend SJ described, “like sitting in a lemon squeezer”.
It was the perfect setting for this bill of folksy, bluesy, acoustic singers. First we had Australian Sarah Blasko, the self-confessed ‘anti-folk’ singer, who wafted onto stage in a robe that made her look like a naughty choirgirl. I say wafts very specifically. She has an airy feeling about her, as if she’s not quite solid. Her voice, though, is solid as can be. And beautiful. All too soon her set was done.
After a short break – enough time to share a glass of red wine and gush-gush-gush – we filed back into the hallowed hall for Willy Mason’s set. What a treat. He was wearing a pair of jeans that sagged at the bum in a fabulous, I-am-totally-at-home-here way. Despite his relaxed, comfortable manner, this 29-year old American was incredible. His songs are quirky, fun, clever and insightful – the closest thing I’ve seen to Johnny Cash.
The last act was the dessert of the evening. A freshly baked chocolate fondant with vanilla-infused custard, to be precise. Cat Power is known for her quirky stage presence. She’s been known to cut sets short, to stop mid-song and change to other songs, to be vaguely uncomfortable on stage, and to apologise often. She didn’t disappoint, reminding me of a somewhat socially-awkward adolescent as she fiddled about on stage.
She found her groove, and she sang, and we were completely entranced. She has the kind of voice that wraps itself around you and then creeps under your skin. At one point she sat at the piano and sang a cover of What the World Needs Now – very apt considering the state of the world we’re currently living in. The elderly lady in front of me put her head on her husband’s shoulder, reaching across to hold his hand. Bless.
Not this time was any set cut short. Cat Power was on fire, and keen to stay on well beyond her allotted hour. Most of the audience had left the concert hall, when she played a couple of extra songs. Us, Cat Power, and forty people. What a thrill.
Immediately after the concert, as Wednesday turned into Thursday, I updated my Facebook status while that gorgeous music was still flowing through my veins:
“Just fell head-over-heels-cartwheel-down-a-steep-hill-into-a-pool-of-love-in-love with Willy Mason and Cat Power. Either of them is welcome to put their slippers under my bed. Or both.”
*This piece was published first at What’s On In Cape Town.