Aoife O’Donovan and Liz Longley at Sweetwater Music Hall – Mill Valley, Calif.
A showman’s life ain’t no easy gig, as has been well documented by better men and women than I.
Aoife O’Donovan made it down to Mill Valley last night, god bless her, after an eight-hour one-woman drive from Ojai. At long last, she landed at Sweetwater Music Hall — the venerable Marin mainstay that has been revived (and relocated) through the good efforts of Bob Weir, among others — and gave it her all and then some.
Sporting a black top and black leather shorts on the summer night (she said she had to raise her game once she caught Nashville opener Liz Longley’s hot red pants), O’Donovan offered her uniquely soulful pipes to tunes like “Fire Engine,” from her most recent album Fossils, which she noted was celebrating its one-year anniversary. She played a song called “Thursday’s Child,” about the perils (fittingly) of life on the road, “Magpie” — in honor of her grandfather, who passed away last year at 93 — and a version of the standard “Pretty Polly,” which came with a consumer warning: “If a guy named Willie asks you to get on the back of a horse with him, don’t do it!”
Although I’m a longtime O’Donovan fan, this was the first time I’d seen her live. Even on a week night, it was well worth the expedition. Her cover of “Nebraska,” Springsteen’s anguished ode to the legacy of Charlie Starkweather — written in 1982, the year she was born — was stunning in its simplicity: “They wanted to know why I did what I did / Well sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.” The senselessness of the crimes, and the sorry state of the world, spoke for itself. Her a cappella version of “In A Sentimental Mood,” hushed the room as she did the Ellington classic proud.
A slow, smart and sexy encore of “You Turn Me On I’m A Radio” was a fitting end to an evening of heartrfelt performances by two women of heart and mind.
Longley’s opening set was equally delightful, with trilling, thrilling renditions of self-penned break-up tunes of faithless beaus. Longley seems to have had some back luck in that department, although she’s so attractive and talented it seems unlikely to be a longterm inflection, She also did a wonderfully jazzy cover of “Moondance,” which drifted into an equally swinging “Summertime.”
Her hit love song, “When You’ve Got Trouble,” couldn’t have been more effective, although I must say it was a pleasure to hear a new Longley tune, “Baby, I’m Alive Again,” in which she kicked over the traces of an unhappy “situation” to declare that she was “breathing again / kicking and screaming again.” Good for her.
O’Donovan promised duets with Longley at an upcoming gig at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage, charmingly adding, “if she’s into it,” to which the offstage newcomer of course gave her approval.
All in all, it was a night to remember — but someone needs to get O’Donovan a chauffeur. She’s too talented, nice and successful to have to deal with Google Maps.