Those expecting to see Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Esperanza Spalding, sporting her signature Afro hair style and playing jazz on an upright bass, were in for a surprise when she performed Thursday at the Palladium at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts. Wearing white-framed glasses and her hair in long braids, she instead played rock-flavored unfamiliar original tunes on an electric bass guitar during her concert titled “Esperanza Spalding Presents: Emily’s D+ Evolution.”
The concert title makes reference to Spalding’s middle name, Emily, and is a concept project which the printed program described as “Rekindling her interest in theatre, poetry and movement.” Accompanying Spalding was Matthew T. Stevens on guitar, Justin A. Tyson on drums and backup singers Corey D. King, who also played trombone, and Emily Elbert, who also played guitar.
The audience was sparse, barely filling the Palladium, yet seemingly appreciative of Spalding’s concert, which featured musical vignettes incorporating video, such as one performed during “Ebony and Ivy.” In it, she and her back up singers marched around the stage carrying diplomas in a satirical commentary of the effects of slavery on American universities.
Spalding, whose sweet-toned voiced has been compared to jazz vocalist Blossom Dearie, also performed songs such as “Tambien,” about class division, and “Unconditional Love,” about relationships. Other songs performed included “Good Lava,” “Funk the Fear,” “Earth to Heaven” and “Judus.”
It was obvious that Spalding, her band and vocalists were all virtuosos and there was no shortage of showmanship—particularly in some of the songs which employed choreographed movement. What was missing was the ability, due to poor sound quality, to decipher what Spalding and the vocalists were singing most of the time. The guest who accompanied this writer confirmed that she too experienced the same dilemma.
There was a brief time early in the Palladium’s history (it opened in Jan. of 2011) when sound issues were prevalent until the bugs were out, but since that time this writer has not experienced any problems. Hopefully the muddy sound of this concert was an isolated incident because the opportunity to experience a world class artist like Spalding doesn’t come around that often. And though her music itself was compelling, to not have heard the words that gave it its full meaning makes it impossible to provide a fair assessment of Spalding’s over-all performance.
For tickets and information about the Center for the Performing Arts 2015-2016 season call (317) 843-3800 or visit thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.