The Badass & The Beautiful

I saw Lisa Fischer perform a couple of nights ago at the Ridgefield Playhouse. She was accompanied by Taylor Eigsti on piano. It’s the first live music I’ve seen in over a year. That’s gotta be my longest drought ever. The venue was only at partial capacity, we wore masks, maintained social distance, and I’m fully vaccinated. It was nice to get out. I wanted to talk a little bit about the show because it was unlike any concert I’ve ever seen, in a good way.

I didn’t know what to expect going in. I was only familiar with Lisa Fischer through her work with other artists. I know I could have gone on YouTube and watched clips from other concerts, but I like to be surprised, even when I see a band that I’ve seen plenty of time before. That should give you an idea of the types of shows I go to. Dickens said, “Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves on being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually equal to the time-of-day, express the wide range of their capacity for adventure by observing that they are good for anything from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter.” When it comes to music, I am a gentleman of the free-and-easy sort. Still, I was surprised.

For starters, I can’t even tell you what genre of music she performed. As someone who hates genre labels, this alone was wonderful. Taylor Eigsti was described as a jazz pianist, and there were elements of jazz in the performance, but if you wanted to tell someone what jazz is, using this performance would be a mistake. Many of the songs she did are associated with rock and R&B, but the arrangements were nowhere close to either. I had the thought as I was listening that this is probably the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing a Mahalia Jackson concert, but none of the songs were gospel. Ms. Fischer’s voice even acted as a musical instrument in a way that I usually associate with classical and opera. It was simply a music performance without any baggage or pretense.

The vibe was warm and friendly. There was a lot of banter between songs, and she interacted with the audience. She even sang little snippets in between the main songs as she was talking. Those were some of my favorite moments. I had no idea Kansas’ “Dust In the Wind” could sound like that.

The pianist favored creating a firm foundation over everything else. The chords were dense. Even when he soloed, they were brief and to the point. His technical facility was obvious, but his goal was accompaniment. It was the perfect platform for Lisa to do her thing.

And what a thing she did. Her voice was extraordinary. It’s common for people to talk about how someone can “really sing,” but wow. Her range, control, pitch, dynamics, and rhythm were perfect. She was in command of everything. She had a way of changing the timbre of her voice to suit the music. This is going to sound strange, but I mean it as a huge compliment. I had a lot of trouble following the lyrics, even for the songs that I knew the words to. It wasn’t because her annunciation was bad or anything like that. Instead of hearing the lyrics as words that have definitions, I heard them as pure, musical notes. The songs might have been about washing dishes for all I know, but they gave me chills.

I was a bit hesitant to buy the tickets and I was nervous about going on the day of the show with COVID and everything. I’m so glad I did. It was a great way to be out in the world again. If you like music, whatever the genre, I strongly recommend Lisa Fischer. It was the first time I’d felt hopeful in a while.

A note on the title. I know I don’t use words like that, but it’s how she billed herself, so it seemed appropriate.

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