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Caroline Smith and Mankwe at the Cedar

11 Jan

As he read off the gig list at around 7pm on Thursday night, Mark Wheat noted that “the legendary Martha Reeves” was performing with the Vandellas at the Dakota Jazz Club, and that “the soon-to-be-legendary” Caroline Smith was at the Cedar. Wheat knew what the sold-out crowd at the Cedar was about to find out, that with a bigger band, back-up singers and big hair, Smith has undergone a transformation from sweet singer-sonwriter to stage-owning, soul-singing diva, and it was a breathless wonder to behold.


We’ve made no secret that we love us some Caroline Smith over here at CakeIn15 – she and bassist Jesse Schuster have played two Cake Shop shows, in January 2012 and January 2011. At the last show a year ago, she debuted a rough version of “You,” calling it her first stab at writing a soul song, and to hear it fleshed out onstage at the Cedar, with Hannah von der Hoff and Lizzo of The Chalice providing sharp and sultry harmonies, and Jef Sundquist laying down keyboard grooves (taking cues, apparently from his time with deVon Gray backing Chastity Brown), the song announced itself as part of a new day for the Good Night Sleeps. Songs like “Half About Being A Woman” had a frank sexuality to them, and an openness and power that Janis Joplin would be proud of. Throw in Jacob Hanson on guitar and regular Good Night Sleeps Arlen Peiffer on drums and Schuster on bass, and band had a building power that kept the crowd electrified.

In all of the new bombast, there were also quiet moments that were riveting, especially in an off-mic, harmonized introduction to “Eagle’s Nest” that silenced the crowd and carried all the way to the back, a reminder of why the Cedar is such a beautiful room for live music. By the end of the set, Smith had moved back into staples like “Clench My Teeth” and the often-shouted-for “Tying My Shoes” but the opening blast of soul was a broadside to 2013. Watch out, Caroline Smith is going big, and giving the people what they want.

Opener Mankwe was a great accompaniment to Caroline Smith’s new direction, with a vivacious and powerful set of her own. The longtime composer and collaborator (here she is backing up Atmosphere on Letterman) released her debut record, Science and Spirit last year, and accompanied by Medium Zach of Big Quarters, moved through her hip-hop inflected poetry and soul tunes with a confident self-assuredness. Appropriately, she noted that her songs were about transformation – the moment thereof and the choice to change, showing that there was more than one artist on stage that night stepping up to a new and big vision of their art.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Faves Of Ours At The Dakota | Cake In 15 - April 25, 2013

    […] loved The Good Night Sleeps for years and their evolution from folky to sultry is getting all the buzz due to it. Tomorrow, the 26th, The New Standards kick into gear at 8pm for $30 – that’s New […]

  2. Caroline Smith at First Avenue | Cake In 15 - September 28, 2013

    […] made our feelings about Caroline Smith and her Goodnight Sleeps abundantly clear. It’s here. And here and here. And here. If you haven’t gotten on it, on the new record, Half About […]

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