Ever have that feeling that you have been transported back in a time to a magical moment that gives you goosebumps all up and down your body?
Well, it happened to me last night at London’s historic Aeolian Hall at a performance by Blues singer, Chuckee Zehr, during her cover of Janis Joplin’s Cry Baby. Performing on the hall’s grand piano, unaccompanied by her stellar three piece band, Zehr wrenched every little bit of hurt and sorrow possible out of the Joplin standard.
Not only did her rendition bring me to tears and bring the audience to its feet in applause, it also transported me back to London’s Wonderland Gardens, a long-gone popular concert hall, where my Janis Joplin cover band, The Comic Opera, used to routinely open for touring acts like Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and Mashmakan in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Playing a full catalogue of Joplin tunes including Cry Baby, the band featured the talented vocals of a very young Cherrill Yates from St. Thomas, who would go on to become half of the wildly successful disco duo, The Raes in the mid-1970s.
It also transported me back to Toronto’s now demolished CNE Stadium where I saw Janis Joplin perform in May 1970 as part of the infamous Festival Express tour (http://heritagetoronto.org/the-festival-express/). Here’s her set list for the concert (https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/janis-joplin/1970/cne-stadium-toronto-on-canada-13d20539.html).
But, last night wasn’t 1969, it was May 4, 2018 and Zehr and her band managed to keep the Sold Out full house crowd of baby boomers and millennials clapping, dancing and singing along with crowd favourites like Me and Bobbie McGee and Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes-Benz and many other Joplin covers for close to two and half hours.
Interspersed with the Joplin covers, the band played tunes by Etta James, The Tedischi Trucks Band and some very tasty original tunes including the soulful Bad, Bad Feeling.
To be sure, Chuckee Zehr is a versatile multi-talented, charismatic entertainer who had the Aeolian audience mesmerized for the duration of the concert. At one point towards the end of the evening, a large crowd of dancers, mostly female, found its way to the front of the stage gyrating and singing along with the diminutive singer.
The band closed the night with a stirring rendition of perhaps Joplin’s best known song, Piece of My Heart, before a standing ovation crowd.
The concert was the first in the Aeolian’s new “Lives Through” series.
If this first concert was any indication of what the rest of the series will be like, this reviewer can’t wait for them to arrive.
Rick Young, May 5, 2018