Legendary British singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading has moved audiences for more than four decades with a signature folk-rock sound often infused with jazz, blues and pop. Armatrading, who turns 65 in December, is touring without a band for the first time in her career. She returned to City Winery Chicago earlier this month, her second visit this year, for three more sold-out shows. The encore performances were the final Chicago-area dates on her last major world tour.
An eager crowd of 300 greeted Armatrading enthusiastically on October 9 when stepped onto a sparse stage set up with only her keyboard, 6-string, 12-string and electric guitars. She began the multimedia show with “All the Way from America,” singing the track from Me Myself I (1980) in front of a video backdrop of the American flag and images from several U.S. cities. Armatrading later showcased her slide guitar skills on “My Baby’s Gone” from her Grammy Award-nominated album Into the Blues (2007). She delighted fans with a spirited “Down to Zero,” and played keyboard for the first time during the show on a moving version of “In These Times.”
Joan Armatrading is known for being very private, so the engaging and entertaining slide show in the middle of the concert was a real treat. “This is the first time I’m doing a world tour on my own,” the soft-spoken singer said while displaying photos from the early days of her career. She also shared stories about her favorite photographed moments: when she received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) award in 2001 for her contributions to the arts, when she ran the New York Marathon at age 58, and the photo on display in the UK National Portrait Gallery. Armatrading was especially proud of the photo taken during a one-on-one meeting with Nelson Mandela. She said she was surprised to discover that her music was a much beloved source of solace and hope among anti-apartheid activists during apartheid.
Armatrading played a lively version of “Kissing and Hugging” after the show and tell session. In the concert’s finest moment, she sang soulfully and played keys on an immaculate version of “The Weakness in Me.” “Love and Affection,” the song she says launched her career, followed later, and she finished the set with the up-tempo radio singles “Rosie,” “Drop the Pilot” and “Me Myself I.” Armatrading admitted that she preferred to stay onstage before the encore so she could see the applause. She responded to the standing ovation with “Willow,” She sat behind the keyboard and directed the crowd as it sang the chorus to her.
Joan Armatrading wraps up her fall U.S. tour in Viena, Virginia on November 1. She is bidding farewell to extensive, 18-month long world tours, but she is not retiring from the stage or the studio. Go to www.joanarmatrading.com for remaining 2015 tour dates in Europe and the U.K., and to keep tabs on her post-world tour activities.