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Michelle Shocked and the Casualties of Wah; Pony Stars

Michelle Shocked and the Casualties of Wah; Pony Stars (El Rey Theater, L.A.; 700 seats; $ 18) Promoted by Goldenvoice. Bands: (Shocked) Richard Susumu Armstrong, Michael Rinta, Carl Wheeler Jr., Jamie Lee Brewer, Joel Smith; (Pony Stars) Max Konrad Johnston; Herbert Joseph Rieth III, Andrew William Mason. Reviewed Oct. 19, 1996. Fresh from a fight to be released from her former label, Michelle Shocked made what can be only called a triumphant performance at the El Rey. The battle with Mercury Records had been over artistic freedom; from Saturday's show, it looks like she's planning on exercising it plenty, now that she's pacted with Private Music. Previous albums have seen Shocked transmute from a folkie with acoustic guitar to the horn-laden "Captain Swing" to the rustic "Arkansas Traveler." A two-year resident of New Orleans, she's working these days with a band performing in that city's characteristic R&B style, with a repertoire of songs entirely her own though at least one number was written with premier New Orleans composer-producer Allen Toussaint. The terrific band, curiously, is from Oakland, a city not noted for its second-line swagger. Shocked's set (a Springsteenian three hours long) consisted, to a great extent, on material she hasn't recorded for either label: she performed only three numbers from her four Mercury albums, and didn't intro a single song from her new "Kind Hearted Woman" until the 90-minute mark. A couple of songs, notably "Little Billie" (about a Crescent City club owner who sings like Billie Holiday) were performed during Shocked's recent brief set opening for the Chieftains at the Universal Amphitheater; here, with a full band, the sound was even more powerful. A belting singer, Shocked is also an above-par writer: the torchy "Why Do I Get the Feeling" would be a highlight of anybody's set, and "I'm a Lucky Dog" is a witty gospel song written from the titular canine's point of view. And , it (like many of the songs, even the new ones) resulted in fairly spontaneous audience participation; always a good sign. "Kind Hearted Woman" is a downbeat affair; somehow, though, the mini-set (played mostly without the band) worked: Shocked had no trouble keeping an audience, most of whom were on their feet, respectfully quiet when appropriate. Of her vintage songs, the reflective "Anchorage" (with her brother, Max Johnston, of the show-opening acoustic trio Pony Stars joining in on fiddle) drew the greatest response; the up tempo "If Love Were a Train" also went down well. The set closed on the upbeat, with a disco-styled number, and a generic New Orleans Indian chant of the "Iko Iko" stripe. The whole thing, reflective and depressing songs included, was a damned impressive affair. Who in the room would have told Michelle Shocked that she couldn't cover any artistic ground she wanted? Todd Everett

Michelle Shocked and the Casualties of Wah; Pony Stars (El Rey Theater, L.A.; 700 seats; $ 18) Promoted by Goldenvoice. Bands: (Shocked) Richard Susumu Armstrong, Michael Rinta, Carl Wheeler Jr., Jamie Lee Brewer, Joel Smith; (Pony Stars) Max Konrad Johnston; Herbert Joseph Rieth III, Andrew William Mason. Reviewed Oct. 19, 1996. Fresh from a fight to be released from her former label, Michelle Shocked made what can be only called a triumphant performance at the El Rey. The battle with Mercury Records had been over artistic freedom; from Saturday’s show, it looks like she’s planning on exercising it plenty, now that she’s pacted with Private Music. Previous albums have seen Shocked transmute from a folkie with acoustic guitar to the horn-laden “Captain Swing” to the rustic “Arkansas Traveler.” A two-year resident of New Orleans, she’s working these days with a band performing in that city’s characteristic R&B style, with a repertoire of songs entirely her own though at least one number was written with premier New Orleans composer-producer Allen Toussaint. The terrific band, curiously, is from Oakland, a city not noted for its second-line swagger. Shocked’s set (a Springsteenian three hours long) consisted, to a great extent, on material she hasn’t recorded for either label: she performed only three numbers from her four Mercury albums, and didn’t intro a single song from her new “Kind Hearted Woman” until the 90-minute mark. A couple of songs, notably “Little Billie” (about a Crescent City club owner who sings like Billie Holiday) were performed during Shocked’s recent brief set opening for the Chieftains at the Universal Amphitheater; here, with a full band, the sound was even more powerful. A belting singer, Shocked is also an above-par writer: the torchy “Why Do I Get the Feeling” would be a highlight of anybody’s set, and “I’m a Lucky Dog” is a witty gospel song written from the titular canine’s point of view. And , it (like many of the songs, even the new ones) resulted in fairly spontaneous audience participation; always a good sign. “Kind Hearted Woman” is a downbeat affair; somehow, though, the mini-set (played mostly without the band) worked: Shocked had no trouble keeping an audience, most of whom were on their feet, respectfully quiet when appropriate. Of her vintage songs, the reflective “Anchorage” (with her brother, Max Johnston, of the show-opening acoustic trio Pony Stars joining in on fiddle) drew the greatest response; the up tempo “If Love Were a Train” also went down well. The set closed on the upbeat, with a disco-styled number, and a generic New Orleans Indian chant of the “Iko Iko” stripe. The whole thing, reflective and depressing songs included, was a damned impressive affair. Who in the room would have told Michelle Shocked that she couldn’t cover any artistic ground she wanted? Todd Everett

Michelle Shocked and the Casualties of Wah; Pony Stars

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