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#108 – Joan Baez @Fox Theater, Oakland, CA – 7 Nov ’16

#108 – Joan Baez @Fox Theater, Oakland, CA – 7 Nov ’16

I knew that Joan Baez is somewhat of a legend, an icon, and still somehow had never got around to listening to a single song of hers until now. I am sure we all have such artists, that we hear of, read of, register in our minds, but just cannot cross that threshold of interest that will drive us to actually seek him/her out in cassettes/CDs before and Youtube or any of the streaming services now to understand what the fuss is all about. And it isn’t even due to any doubt of “if-the-fuss-is-real-at-all”, that may be the case for new artists who have burst into the scene with all the promise and the fan followings and critical nods to back it up but have yet to pass that hardest hurdle, the test of Time! You are great today but will I remember you tomorrow? In my books, the test of true greatness is the test of time, generations roll over, tastes change, the world moves on and no artist (especially in music), no matter how great, can be expected to draft new legions of fans once they are past their prime. Even if they are still in their prime but at a point of time when the ever-widening generational gap is wide enough to start needing a bridge to cross over, and very few, I would say almost none, is able to cross that bridge. Some may walk over from the other side (like me for quite a few artists of my dad’s generation), but we are more or less entrenched. And that is the reason why I, an 80s kid, am more enthusiastic about attending a Joan Baez concert (whom I hadn’t listened to yet but know that is great enough to be talked about even today among her generational blast radius), than any of the leading acts of today (like say Twenty One Pilots or Sia, heard there shows are pretty good).

Another majestic concert hall in Oakland
Another majestic concert hall in Oakland

Due to the reasons cited above, I was initially a bit undecided on whether I really would go, I felt that I eventually will but put her up on my concert calendar as “Joan Baez – Tentative”. But she is still very popular, enough to have a second Oakland, California show added due to popular demand and that is what sealed the deal for me. Being on a Monday worked better for me as well, no infringing on weekend family time! Wife at office, me working from home, even cooked a quick dinner before diving into the evening office traffic. This is the part I don’t enjoy about concerts in Oakland, traffic on the I-880 freeway is always a mojo-killer especially on weekdays when it can take 1.5 hrs to just get there. Waze tried to be a bit creative, routing me through a maze of other freeways and smaller roads before putting me back on 880, but not sure how helpful that was, still seemed to just take forever. Finally reached a little before 8 PM, didn’t fuss too much about the $20/- “event” parking that still required a healthy walk and voila, finally was in front of Fox Theater. This was my first time at this venue and after the majestic Paramount Theater (also in Oakland) for the Norah Jones concert, this seemed something along the same lines! Oakland is a place that we had always heard of in the context of “Don’t take a wrong exit and stray there, dangerous place, gangs and shooting and stuff”. As a result, we never go to Oakland for sightseeing and I initially used to skip concerts there as I usually watch concerts alone and didn’t feel it would be very safe there. But this and the last concert has opened my eyes, yes there may be crime in pockets but there are also such beautiful and exquisite places with such great music. When I settled down on my seat there was an old lady next to me and I made a comment that the interior décor was amazing and that got her started about how some wealthy Oakland businessmen had taken up the project to renovate this venue to infuse hope and vibrancy to the locality and I have to say, they must have succeeded in their goal, as I, a first-time tentative visitor immediately had a very positive impression. Another comment that she made was “Its funny, us attending a Joan Baez concert the day before the election! I just hope Trump doesn’t win.” In fact, Joan Baez had named her show “Nasty Women with the Bad Hombres”, derogatory and racist terms used by Trump during his campaign! However as we all know now, he did win and that wasn’t funny at all!

Another intricately built concert hall, just a pleasure watching it even before the show.
Another intricately built concert hall, just a pleasure watching it even before the show.

 

Joan Baez in action
Joan Baez in action

Joan Baez didn’t keep us waiting too long and she got on stage at 8:15 PM wearing a “Nasty Woman” t-shirt, to the surprisingly loud cheers from the crowd and started with the beautiful “Love is a Four-letter word”. Now I will not lie; I felt compelled to read her up on Wikipedia to know more about her and that’s where I got to know the details around her relationship with Bob Dylan. And then before the second song itself she took a dig at her past lover and current Nobel Laureate, “Among other things about this tour, this is Bob Dylan appreciation month. His manners suck but his songs are great”, that had the audience is splits. She took couple of digs throughout the show, like after singing “Diamonds and Rust” she said, “I should have just kept the diamonds”! But I felt it was all in good jest and she still had more love or at least acceptance, than hate or anger in her towards him (but then what do I know!) But as she enthralled us with one after another soulful and heartfelt songs, this not-at-all-nasty woman of 75 showed the fire in her, steadier the flames may be now but still fire and not just embers of a bygone era. But what was a bygone era being this sound, a folksy, feisty and yet tender songs on social issues, personal journeys and a call for greater goodness. As I was listening to her songs over the week I was initially a bit surprised by the fact that most of her more famous songs were covers and the brilliant ones composed by her like “Diamonds and Rust”, “Silver Dagger”, “Prison Trilogy” etc. made me wonder why she didn’t do more of her own compositions. But as I slowly walked this musical journey with her, I realized her brilliance in the selection of these great songs and giving it her own soul and in this process giving them a fresh leash of life in many cases. When I drive to a concert, in most cases I will have done my homework and revert back to Radiohead or whatever CD or cassette is on my old Toyota Corolla (yes, it has a cassette player as well). But this was the first time I kept on listening to her on my phone, to unearth more and more of her songs on Youtube (spending valuable data) in this long 1.5 hrs drive and sunk deeper and deeper into her world. And now I can say, I know Joan Baez and her music and what she stands for, she is no longer a known stranger in my musical universe.

Joan Baez singing one of her soulful songs
Joan Baez singing one of her soulful songs
Standing ovation!
Standing ovation!
  • Concert#: 108
  • Season: 2016
  • Date: 07-November-2016
  • Band/Artist: Joan Baez
  • Tour Name: Nasty Women with the Bad Hombres
  • Opening acts: None
  • Venue: Fox Theater
  • City: Oakland, CA
  • Setlist: 
  • Fun Fact: Attended Joan Baez concert on the day before the US election which elected Donald Trump! Also my first concert without any merchandise, not even a postcard :’(
  • My Concert Quotient: 4/5
#107 – Norah Jones @Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA – 28 Oct ’16

#107 – Norah Jones @Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA – 28 Oct ’16

I would be lying if I say that I am a great Norah Jones fan! She is someone I got to know of as an artist who won a shit-load of Grammys AND has an Indian connection (daughter of Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar with American concert producer Sue Jones). So, with a lot of anticipation I dived into her acclaimed debut album Come Away with Me back in 2002-03 when I was 18-19 something and heavily into the Metallicas and Iron Maidens of the musical world. Needless to say, my enthusiasm was politely quietened; I had no doubt she was a great artist but also realized that I was not ready for such mellow and soulful music yet, just too much hormones in the system! I still had a soft corner for her but for the time-being relegated her to the treasure-chest-for-the-future. Fast-forward to 2016, when I was Ticketmaster-notified that she was touring in support of her new album Day Break, I knew it was time to open that treasure chest. And I truly felt that, because I didn’t dither on buying the ticket, snapped it up as soon as they went on general public sales and got the best one available at that point of time (which wasn’t crazy expensive either so that helped).

Now October 2016 has been a very hectic month concert-wise (8 concerts including the mega-festival Desert Trip and mini-festival Bridge School Benefit concert). What that meant was I didn’t have a lot of time to start exploring her music in the first place, actually 1 week to be exact. So as soon as I was done with the previous concert (Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson) I immediately looked up her current tour’s setlist, created a YouTube playlist and got down to doing my homework. And this time it was different, really different; you can actually gauge how much you have grown, at least musically, by re-listening to artists you had loved and those you didn’t like as much before. What had seemed mellow previously sounded like control and mastery now (on the other hand what I had previously loved as aggression and energy has started to sound a little hollow and directionless now). Another thing I noticed in the fan-recorded concert videos of her gigs is that she seems like a really nice and warm and a little awkward person, which coupled with the fact that she sang like a dream made her seem very endearing and enticing. So, after around 14 years, I felt the same sense of anticipation again, for Norah Jones.

Paramount Theater in all its Granduer
Paramount Theater in all its grandeur

The concert was on a Friday and a pretty hectic one at that. After finishing up on all the east-coast client calls from home I had to go to my office at 3 PM for a meeting, was planning to attend an Alien convention after that at 4:30 PM (AlienCon 2016 at Santa Clara, CA) before finally driving through the evening office traffic to Oakland which is about an hour away on a good day. The concert was supposed to start at 8 PM and it was in a venue that I had never been to before, which meant I was going to have parking woes! And did I tell you about my battery-dead car which was going to get me through this day? Well, can’t miss Norah Jones so finally got the old battery replaced in the morning (was hoping the car will run after jump-starting it but when that failed knew I had no options and no time either)!

Paramount Theater hall was so exquisite
The actual auditorium was huge and so exquisitely made

Somehow I made it through the day, and finally landed at Paramount Theater at 8:15 PM. As I entered I was blown away by the decor and ambiance of the place, like something out of the roaring 20s and actually reminded me of the Empire State Building. Anyway, thankfully there was an opening act that I didn’t bother with as I had to first get a t-shirt and then get something to eat (was super-hungry). Unfortunately, none of the t-shirts had the tour dates and if that is the case I usually don’t get any but again made a concession for Norah Jones and grabbed one for $25/- (which did help again)! However, there was practically nothing to eat, though lots to drink! I grabbed a Hershey’s chocolate, two small chips and a Coke (another “dry” 2016 concert) after waiting in line for around 20 mins and headed out to my seat. Here I was in for a pleasant surprise because when I showed my ticket to the usher he exclaimed “Oh, good seat!” and as I kept walking through the rows of the auditorium sized venue to the fourth row, I was like “Wow, these must be the best seats I have ever got in any concert!” But that also spurred another thought, “How did I get such good seat? Isn’t she very popular, as in mad-scramble-to-get-tickets popular?” Looking around, the hall seemed pretty full; I guess her audience are a bit mellow and peace-loving too, just like her!

There she is!
There she is!

And then finally around 9:15 PM she came on stage, waved to the crowd, said a Hi, sat down and started singing and playing Day Break, her first song of the night, on the piano without further ado. And oh, such heavenly voice, such adroit fingers on the piano, such fresh and beguiling charm and such such a talent! As I was listening to her songs through the week I had started to comprehend the allure of her simple and yet highly polished talent, some songs of her new album like Day Break and Flipside were on the edgier side whereas Sunrise, My Dear Country and Carry On were pure drops of honey and nectar! I felt she doesn’t deviate very drastically from her style but each deviation is a fresh discovery while still being very Norah Jones. Another funny thing to observe was her awkward reactions to sudden yells of some fan expressing love, admiration and acknowledgement of her talent, she managed a look out to her audience with an embarrassed smile and maybe a word or two. Even when the encore ended, the speed at which the troupe exited the stage after the bow was characteristic Norah Jones and it wasn’t in the least bit offensive, rather a confirmation of this beautifully talented and politely private artist of this current age of social-overdose.

The Ray of Norah Jones on a new Day Break!
Rays of Norah Jones on a new Day Break!
Norah with her amazing troupe, a standing ovation to a standing encore!
Norah with her amazing troupe, a standing ovation to a standing encore!
  • Concert#: 107
  • Season: 2016
  • Date: 28-September-2016
  • Band/Artist: Norah Jones
  • Tour Name: Day Break
  • Opening acts: Valerie June
  • Venue: Paramount Theater of Performing Arts
  • City: Oakland, CA
  • Setlist: Norah Jones @ Oakland, CA – 28-Sep-2016
  • Fun Fact: Attended an Alien Convention before the concert!
  • My Concert Quotient: 4/5