Madeleine Peyroux played two shows at the Musical Instrument Museum on Tuesday, July 26, and prior to the first show, I described her as “smoky” to an older gentleman who had joined us at our table, and he got this look on his face like he was imagining the jazz chanteuse on fire and emitting clouds of smoke on stage. Of course “smoky” was in reference to Peyroux's vaunted voice, but after the show, my companion and I decided that wasn't accurate. And “sultry” wasn't totally apropos, either, because Peyroux has such a wide vocal range – she may hit a smoky note or go into a sultry slide, but her singing covers a wide range of styles, and octaves. And “sullen” was way off, because while Peyroux does sing some sad songs, her sense of humor and between-song banter was beyond entertaining. If she ever tires of being one of the most celebrated singers in modern jazz, she could totally kill it in comedy as a second career. So after some discussion of which s-words best described the stellar show Peyroux and her players (upright bass player Barak Mori and guitarist Jon Herington) put on, here are our top five:
#1 Sassy: “Saucy” or “silly” might work here, too. Going back to the between-song banter, Peyroux's intro to the song “Guilty” was: “Most of the songs I sing are love songs, blues, or drinking songs. This one is all three, thanks to [the songwriter] Randy Newman.” After the applause subsided from her stunning rendition (complete with pseudo-slurred words to bolster the I've-been-drinking effect), Peyroux said, “That song reminds me of my dad. I remember when I was a kid, we were driving and he saw this big sign that said DRINK CANADA DRY. So we moved there.”
#2 Scatalicious: So what if I just made that word up. For the first of two encore songs, Herington played a pick-a-dilly (did I just make that up, too?) guitar solo and scatted along with every note, emulating the sounds of his six-string with aplomb. Mori did the same in his solo, growling and baritone-humming along with his bass strings.
#3 Silvery: Speaking of guitars, the tone of Herington's Gibson sounded so silvery. Every note resonated like a teardrop falling into the palm of a hand, and drifted through the air in the Musical Instrument Museum Theater like a feather. The acoustics in that venue are just jaw-droppingly pristine – perfectly suited for a superlative player like Herington, who by the way is also lead guitarist for this band you might have heard of called Steely Dan.
#4 Soulful: This is the right word for Peyroux's vocals. She feels everything she sings. You can not only hear it in her voice when she performs live, but you can see it in her face. Her expressions run the gamut from wincing in pain to crossing her eyes and sticking her tongue out (again, there was a lot of levity to her set, and the audience loved it).
#5 Superb: Or super. Or splendid. Or spectacular. Pick any s-superlative, and it would suit Peyroux's show. Except for smoky. It was certainly not smoky in there.
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