Michelle Shocked – Joe’s Pub (New York City, NY)
Michelle Shocked could be your babysitter.
Picture an incommodious stage, squeezed even tighter thanks to a large canvas beside the drum kit, in a dark Manhattan club uncustomarily filled with young mothers and their toddlers.
Van trouble the previous night in Baltimore cost Michelle Shocked and her five-piece Mighty Sound backing band both a planned extra rehearsal and an early arrival, so as show time approaches, the 43-year-old punk-folker is still testing her monitor levels. And though Shocked has recently celebrated the simultaneous release of three separate and distinct albums, this afternoon’s performance, the first of three separate and distinct sets at Joe’s Pub and the twelfth date on a summer tour, is the first in which the malleable musician will freely highlight Got No Strings, her collection of Disney songs executed Texas swing style.
Disney artist and Shocked friend David Willardson is called onstage — he will paint a portrait of an agitated Donald Duck while the band plays — and the show (“a dream that was a wish come true,” the singer says by way of introduction) begins.
Shocked works her way through a nearly complete rendition of her album, though some numbers, such as “Spectrum”, a shout-out to more colors than the rainbow can contain, fall short (or apart) because of the missing rehearsal. Faring better are the title cut (Pinocchio is well-represented) and her “very, very favorite,” “Baby Mine” from Dumbo.
And yes, for a time, the floor of Joe’s Pub resembles a Baby Mine. Soda glasses are dropped. Late lunch silverware clangs like a firehouse bell. Children cry or wander away from their assigned seats. “I consider myself something of an anarchist,” Shocked says from the stage, “but kids have me beat every time.”
An attempt at audience participation (a.k.a. songs about rabbits) is made as Shocked veers past Disney toward a sing-along from her own childhood, “Stay On The Happy Side”, complete with a “knock knock/who’s there?” call and response. By the coda, however, a car has run over the rapidly multiplied, formerly “happy little rabbits,” immediately presenting more animal death in a scant three minutes than Bambi conjured in an hour and a half.
But have no fear, more furry hippity-hoppers are on their way as Shocked trots out “Don’t Ask”, one of two title cuts from her Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell album, which transforms the singer into yet another rabbit. Younger audience members are encouraged to create bunny ears with their fingers and bounce in place at the oft-repeated “jump, little rabbit” chorus.
Soon Shocked, like a blues-fueled Pied Piper, has left the stage to lead a conga line that snakes through the venue’s tight tables, up past the bar, and out the side door. Finally they bound onstage, the crush of invited children rendering the platform cattle-car thick. By song’s end, Shocked looks like a nanny (call her Mary Poppins for the 21st century) at the end of her shift, no less loving but earnestly tired as she gently hands down stage-struck children, one by one, to their gathered guardians.
It’s more than enough, a uniquely strong finale. But with a nudge from her own band, Shocked straps on her guitar for the first time and strums out “Anchorage” as tabs are paid, the last of the Shirley Temples are finished, and a snarl of strollers is separated for the late-afternoon commute home.