Allison Moorer – 12th & Porter (Nashville, TN)
Expectations were high when Allison Moorer drew a packed house to Nashville’s venerable 12th & Porter nightclub for two Saturday night shows that were being recorded for posterity and commerce (with both a live album and a DVD release planned for later this year). In addition to the importance of coming up with the goods for the recording, Moorer had to impress a Nashville crowd that seemed largely to possess a “been there, done that” attitude.
Not surprisingly, then, Moorer and her band started somewhat tentatively on the evening’s opener, a cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Cry No Tears”. It wasn’t until the end of the third song, “Day You Said Goodbye”, that both artist and band seemed to settle into place. Proceeding with highlights from her catalog as “Steal The Sun”, “A Soft Place To Fall”, and “Let Go”, they finally started to hit their stride. A potential momentum killer, the new and unfamiliar “On Any Given Day”, was given a forceful reading by Moorer, whose rich voice made the audience take notice.
Nine songs into the set, Moorer called her sister Shelby Lynne to the stage, and together they proceeded to demonstrate how the tension between sibling performers can propel a performance to greater heights. The contrast between the two — Allison as modest southern girl, Shelby as bitchy L.A. diva — couldn’t have been more stark.
From the moment they ripped into “Bring Me All Your Lovin'”, it was clear that these women meant to push each other hard and, sisters to the end, outdo each other on every note. The tender moment they shared at the end of Allison’s heartwrenching song about their mother, “Is Heaven Good Enough For You”, couldn’t hide the sense that Moorer and Lynne have had a rocky relationship at times.
Lynne’s guest spot ended with producer R.S. Field joining them onstage to play guitar on the sizzling “Going Down”. This trio of songs by the sisters was the moment everyone had come to see on this night, and it more than lived up to the billing.
The next couple of songs, the brooding “Dying Breed” and a new number called “I’ll Break Before I Bend”, led into a guest spot by longtime Moorer collaborator Lonesome Bob. On the heels of the Lynne/Moorer spectacle, Bob and Allison’s set-closing rendition of “No Next Time” was a bit anti-climactic; it might have been wiser to have placed his appearance earlier in the evening. It also would have been nice to see them do more than one song together; anyone who has seen them do a complete set can testify to the charming chemistry they have.
Anti-climactic, on the other hand, was not a problem in the encore. Though Moorer’s solo-piano delivery of “Cold In California”, which could have been a sublime moment, was nearly ruined by the noise of an inattentive crowd, the electricity picked up again with the arrival of Kid Rock for a duet on the song “Bully Jones”. Kid Rock may be a pedestrian singer and rapper, but he can jolt a room like a live wire, and it was entertaining to watch him mugging onstage with an obviously amused Allison.
It’s one thing, though, to get caught up in the moment of seeing a cowboy-hatted Rock work the crowd in a small Nashville club. It’s quite another to imagine whether it’s going to sound worth a damn on the disc when it finally comes out (though it may be more tolerable on the DVD).
The second show of the evening was marked by a more relaxed attitude, with only minor variations in the set list. Moorer traded “Cold In California” for “Cold, Cold Earth” (the stark hidden track on her 2000 album The Hardest Part) in the encore. The one other notable change was a rambling, unplanned jam with Kid Rock riffing on bits of “Man Of Constant Sorrow” and his own “Cowboy”.
Overall, the hesitancy that marked the outset of the evening was absent, making the second show more energetic show from the get-go. “Alabama Song”, “Send Down An Angel” and “Yessirree” were delivered with a renewed punch and a loose attitude. And Moorer’s voice held up remarkably well for the entire night; indeed, she stretched it out in ways only hinted at on her records.