March 3, 2010
Written by Eric Atienza
Photographed by Michael Meyer
Fresh off of her breakout Grammy
performance, Imelda May’s east coast tour
swept into Brooklyn’s Southpaw. It’s
fitting that, after her televised tribute to rock’s
past, May would play in a club with rock’s
history plastered all over the walls. Album covers
and show bills from decades past looked on as she
belted out a set of blues and rockabilly to an audience
of eager Brooklynites and more than a few transplanted
Unfortunately the price of admission for this
show, not counting the low cost of the ticket, was
the opening set from Brooklyn’s Madison Square
Gardeners. The band’s addition of a country
twang to late-90s, mid-tempo, radio-friendly pop-punk
was saccharin and uninteresting. The rhythms were
boppable but unoriginal, and covered in an artificial,
plastic sheen. The only thing saving the group from
a Drive-Thru records compilation was guest guitarist
Chris Masterson coaxing beautiful tunes from an
equally beautiful hollow-bodied guitar. Teen rock
has had its heyday, and apparently teen rockabilly
is poised to follow.
Thankfully Imelda May and band took the stage
next with some truly soulful and emotive tunes.
She began in blues mode with a sultry, smoky vocal
combined with some filthy guitar riffs that exuded
seductiveness and heartfelt yearning. She took turns
between pouty flirtatiousness and thoughtful longing
while drawing in every ear in the room.
Gare and Dave Prisman
With a playful “Who wants to hear some rockabilly?”
she switched gears into a set of songs that had
equal amounts playful swing and electric swagger.
Her deep and passionate vocal was an ignition switch
that soon had the room roaring to life.
Of course May’s stellar vocal was not the
only star of her set. From sax to bass to drums
her backing band featured players playing with souls
filled with a lifetime of old scratchy records and
shows in dark, dank clubs. While Masterson distinguished
himself from the Gardeners with some killer licks
May’s guitarist far eclipsed him in sheer
talent and evocative ability.
Though, for a U.S. audience, it might be jarring
to hear May’s Dublin accent in between perfect
renditions of blues and rockabilly, her pitch perfect
performance should be enough to convince even the
biggest skeptics that these tunes are no longer
simply American music. The styles are universal,
and the sentiments and emotions they contain can
be carried by anyone with a heart big enough to
hold them and lungs big enough to project them.
Imelda May clearly fits that bill.