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Live Review: Alice Russell at the Cedar Cultural Center

15 Mar

March 14, 2009
By Cin15 guest reviewer Jared Thiele

As a venue, the Cedar Cultural Center is best at demanding a certain reverence from their audience. It’s a reverence that complements the more subtle performances of the folk and world artists they’re known for usually hosting, though over the last couple years there have been more exceptions to that, and Alice Russell & Co. are just that.

From the moment four men dressed in white took the stage and began playing the beginning of “Two Steps,” the crowd was already up from their folding chairs and dancing to the music. An energy that only intensified as the show went on. A smiling Alice Russell took the stage looking fantastic in a glittering black sequins dress, black stilettos, pink tights and a large pink flower in her hair.

Promo photo

Promo photo

Midway through the first song technical difficulties began to crack and distort the low end in a manner usually reserved for Wolf Eyes concerts. Yikes! It was so obvious and obnoxious that no one would have blamed the group had they decided to end the song or maybe even their set prematurely, but the band played on through like it was nothing. With some quick action by the Cedar sound tech, the “technical friendships,” as Alice humorously called it, was all cleared up and out of mind for the remainder of the evening.

Between songs, Alice had some very funny banter. She told a story about the last time she played in Minneapolis, and how she got drunk on whiskey and was twirled around by her guitar player until she fell over and ended up with a black eye. She referred to that move as a “Whirly Bird.” Of course she couldn’t make her way through the Twin Cites without telling us a story about her dad not letting her listen to Prince songs in the car when she was a kid.

Russell’s incredible voice, and radiant cheer could not be dismissed, denied, or ignored. Without question she was the highlight of her own show. Of course her band has some chops too. Violin player/back-up singer Mike Simmonds hit some pretty amazing high notes to accompany Russell’s outstanding voice, and really surprised the crowd with (as dorky as this sounds) the versatility of the electric violin. Guitarist and album producer TM Juke embodied the soulful doo-wop swayer “Hurry On Now.”

Live, Alice Russell and her band were more stripped down. Many of the songs are backed up with just guitar, bass, and drums. This gives the performance a much more rockin’ feel than what is heard on the albums. Each song takes on a new energy as the players take it upon themselves to compensate for the lack of organ, horns, and studio magic. Her version of the White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” was one of the highlights of her set, as well as the short impromptu version of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” that the band played as a joke.

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