I wasn’t trying to be difficult during Trixie Whitley’s set at Hearst Plaza Lincoln Center, I mean, I realized she was great but a little voice in my head kept whispering “Yes but Trixie was better at Le Poisson Rouge”. Then, somewhere during an astounding run through “Gradual Return” –a pop rock masterstroke which seemed to bypass her usual blues jones to emerge as a straight forward adult pop hit, the voice stopped whispering.
Indeed, my actual review was not as positive as this one will turn out to be. The LPR was the record release party for her debut album Fourth Corner. It was sold out, it was a TW crowd and it was an easy sell and she sold it well even though it was a little too long. Buzzed on everything going on, Whitley referenced her father the late blues guitarist Chris Whitley, mentioned she’d been waiting to record this album since she was twelve years old, pulled a set from all points east and it was really good.
That was January of this year, eight months later, Lincoln Center Out Doors introduces the blues belter by mentioning how many other great performers, Keb Mo for one, got their start playing the opening set at the “Americana” Free Performances. Basically, they were telling the audience, listen up, this could be big.
So it wasn’t Trixie’s audience, it was Trixie’s audience to lose. In the blazing midday sun, the burnished blonde blues singer was in the wrong place for her wee small hours of the morning soulfulness and she was simply magnificent. Playing a lovely looking black guitar and in a form fitting, tight black gown, with her Norwegian might blond and white visage, Trixie looks all wrong but alright for the new York afternoon.
She opened solo but soon brought her band who sounded better than at LPR and backed her up on one hard hitting slab of power blues after another, Trixie going down so low she almost rumbles before reaching through the skies.
This is not the personal life time experience that LPR was, there is something straightforward. First solo, than with the band, then the keyboard player leaves, then he returns and finally she adds her own keyboards before ending the performance, and finally she reaches the crest of the performance with “Breathe You In My Dreams” and the applause, which have been constant, fill the Plaza. The audience has been attentive from the beginning and there is none of the casualness of the concert goer who is getting a freebie.
Some of these songs off Fourth corner, which, in retrospect, could have been produced a little better, are better live now. Not dissimilar to Gary Clark Jn, there is a sense of a failed pop move in the production But really, if they couldn’t get at least a TV soundtrack song off “Gradual Return”, they should accept that despite her Grace Kelly coolness, Trixie is gonna spend her career as a member of a semi-popular genre of music. Live, Trixie catches your attention, she looks different and it is part rock star heat and part model cool: easy to project upon but to a degree just too distance even close and in the daylight. The first time I saw Trixie was at Rockwood Music Hall a couple of years ago and she was nervous despite being in front of an audience made up largely of friends and family. For a certain social strata of New York, playing under the new Lincoln Center is as auspicious and carefully watched an occasion as your record release party or early post live album gigs with an album worth of recordings to pick from. Whitley was pure professionalism without even the comfort of summoning her father’s name. She sounded really good.
“My Joy” sounds much better on stage than on record, it is the sets highlight but really it has been an excellent set. Everybody is on their game, the rhythms sink deep, the songs have a depth of feeling that work in just about any environment and Trixie has continued to grow by leaps since I first saw her a couple of years ago.
A new song, “The Shack” is funkier than anything she has ever done, it moves on its bass and drums and it has a real groove behind it. The band shakes its hips and the audience seems on the verge of clapping along.
So, I started this review by saying Trixie was better at LPR but really, this was the Trixie Whitley experience, this is what she brings. And what she brings is one of the best heavy blues shows in town. After it was over you couldn’t get close to the merchandise table for all the people. Keb Mo better watch out.
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