BROOKLYN, N.Y. Songs about baseball, a highway and the
wonders of summer were on the program Saturday when a group of
singer/songwriters, including Marshall Crenshaw, Beth Orton and Jimmie
Dale Gilmore, set out to present the "Songs of the Century."
During a show at St. Ann's Church that boiled 100 years of music down to
29 tunes, Crenshaw sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and Bobby Troup's
"Route 66," and Orton took on the George GershwinDuBose Heyward classic
"You know, folks, there's no more Route 66," Crenshaw said before singing
"Route 66," a song recorded over the years by pop crooner Nat King Cole,
rockers the Rolling Stones, synth-pop band Depeche Mode and various other
artists. "But we can still enjoy this fine pop song by Bobby Troup."
Crenshaw, Orton, country singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore, R&B singer Sandra
St. Victor, and pop singers Martha Wainwright and Susan Cowsill took turns
as featured vocalist in front of a band led by ex-dB's singer and R.E.M.
sideman Peter Holsapple. The band included guitarist Dave Schramm, bassist
Graham Maby, drummer Alan Bezozi, and Cowsill and ex-Bangle Vicki
Peterson on backing vocals; Cowsill, Peterson and Holsapple constitute
half the lineup of the pop-rock band the Continental Drifters.
Janine Nichols, program director for Arts at St. Ann's, said the
three-hour-long setlist was put together after an informal survey of
musicians and songwriters about the century's best songs. "And we actually
invited 20,000 people that receive our season brochure to submit lists,"
she said. Organizers made a short list of important songwriters,
cross-referenced it to the list of songs, and then the performers lobbied
for personal favorites, Nichols said.
Popular opinion favored "Yesterday" as the one Beatles song to include,
"but we didn't know what we could bring to it," Nichols said. She suggested
"In My Life" instead.
Orton, who sang "In My Life" (RealAudio
excerpt of Beatles version) told the audience she wanted to do
it "first because I'm British, but also because it's f---ing beautiful."
St. Victor, the singer for the early-'90s funk band the Family Stand,
deployed her deep, soulful voice for her first tune, the Righteous Brothers
hit "Unchained Melody," which she built up from a near speaking voice to
a crescendo of emotion. For the rest of the night, the crowd applauded
at the mere sight of her, so strong was her performance.
Orton's first song was bluesman Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain"
excerpt). The platinum-haired Gilmore lent his silver tongue to
Eddy Arnold's "You Don't Know Me," Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could
Cry" and the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht tune "Mack the Knife," which he
gave a slow and spare acoustic arrangement.
"I think variety is the keynote tonight," Gilmore said.
Wainwright, daughter of Loudon Wainwright and sister of Rufus Wainwright,
gave her voice to songs including the Disney tune "When You Wish Upon a
Star" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" Judy Garland's signature
number from "The Wizard of Oz" during what she called a children's
The latter song sounded one of the few sour notes of the night, as it
repeatedly challenged the high end of Wainwright's vocal range. During
the night's second set she repented with "That's All Right, Mama" a blues
song by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup that's better known as the A-side of Elvis
Presley's first single. It fit well within her range.
Crenshaw closed out the first set with a rousing version of "Town Without
Pity," made famous by Gene Pitney.
During intermission, the house mix featured a dozen runners-up, including
Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," the Velvet
Underground's "Sweet Jane" and Van Morrison's "Moondance."
The second set was more diverse than the first. Crenshaw sang the complete
lyrics of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which he said was written in
1917. And he hit an emotional high note with his personal selection of
the Beach Boys' "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," a songwriters'
favorite from their acclaimed Pet Sounds (1966). In place of the
Beach Boys' theremin, Schramm sat down for a pedal-steel guitar solo.
Orton sang the sultry "Summertime," from Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess,"
in the style of Janis Joplin, and St. Victor represented Bob Dylan with
"Blowin' in the Wind."
Crenshaw made sure to enunciate every word of "Louie Louie," the three-chord
rock classic that the government once investigated for allegedly subversive
lyrics. Written by Richard Berry, it was a major hit for the Kingsmen in
The capacity audience of 600, which didn't receive a program until after
the show, reacted to each song as if it were playing "Name That Tune."
It took only a few piano notes for the crowd to recognize Bill Withers'
"Lean on Me," and precisely four thuds of the bass drum for them to whoop
it up for the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," which Cowsill sang.
Nichols said that, on the theory that the century doesn't end until a
year from now, the performers are talking about repeating the program in
2000 with a different setlist.