May 17, 2004

FULL RANGE ON DISPLAY

Joe Firstman.jpg

Joe Firstman cuts loose during rare headlining gig

Joe Firstman/Rich Price
The Cutting Room -- New York
May 3, 2004

After Joe Firstman released his major-label debut, 2003's The War of Women (Atlantic Records), he embarked on what seemed to be a never-ending string of supporting slots, hitting the road with such major-league touring acts as Sheryl Crow, Jewel and Willie Nelson.

An artist can't ask for a better list of mentors, especially when it comes to the live-performance aspect of the music business. So, when it came time for Firstman to showcase his live show in an all-too-rare headlining slot, rising to the occasion was the order of the night.

Firstman and his four-piece backing band snuck onstage very quietly, almost looking to blend into the chatty atmosphere of the venue. But when they started out with the mid-tempo, guitar-driven "Slave or Siren," it seemed to be a direct attempt to kill the chit-chat and remind the crowd why it came. The song itself, not one of the strongest on Firstmanís album, glided by, yet it managed to capture the audienceís attention.

By the third song, the album's first single, "Breaking All the Ground," the band hit its stride. With its noticeable nod to The Black Crowes' signature southern-boogie and buoyed by a solid story, the song stood out as an early highlight. Once it was over, Firstman dismissed his band mates and sat behind his piano for the first of two solo songs. "Saving All the Love" proved that the singer-songwriter has a very affecting gift with vocal phrasing, as Firstman seemed to push his voice to a breaking point -- not to show it off, but to place an emphasis on his lyrics.

The band returned for "Can't Stop Loving You," a song that Firstman joked would be "the biggest single in the history of Atlantic Records." With its country-fied slide guitar intro and catchy chorus, the song shows a strong commercial promise, and it appeared to be a genuine crowd pleaser. But the true show stealer of the evening came toward the end of the show when Firstman, again alone at the piano, launched into "Secondhand Grave." Firstman showed off his amazing vocal range and delivered a passionate performance without fear of veering off-key. Maybe every note wasn't pitch-perfect, but it didnít seem to matter -- by focusing on the song itself, the audience couldn't help but show respect and reverence.

The hour-long set concluded with a couple of choice covers. The first, a version of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," was delivered a cappella with the band providing tight harmony and Firstman out front giving all of what he had left in the tank. The set-closing cover was a near-perfect rendition of the Paul McCartney classic "Maybe I'm Amazed."

Opening for Firstman was Rich Price, who gave the crowd a sample of songs from his upcoming major-label debut on Geffen Records. Price had a vocal delivery that meandered somewhere between the hushed sincerity of John Mayer and the gravely wail of Steve Earle. His 30-minute set seemed a bit rushed, with the only standout being "I'm on My Way," which is on the Shrek 2 soundtrack.

-- By Mike Madden

Posted by medleyville at May 17, 2004 06:09 PM
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