Review: Madeleine Peyroux

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

Before playing the final song of the night, Madeline Peyroux told how “Somethin’ Grand” was written around 4 in the morning, when the trucks on the nearby highway finally stopped buzzing past her Brooklyn apartment.

Most of the music Peyroux played for a sold-out edition of Cyprus Avenue Live at the Folly Theater on Friday night fit that contemplative, midnight mood.The atmosphere was struck with the first song, “Dance Me to the End of Love.” Darren Beckett’s gently brushed drums and Barak Mori’s subtle and sometimes sweeping bass lines created a bed for music that blurred the lines between jazz, folk and pop.

“Don’t Wait Too Long,” the third number up, was a showcase for the other two members of Peyroux’s band. Jon Herrington’s guitar had a warm, fluid tone. Larry Goldings spent the night switching between piano, organ and keyboards. His earthy, gospel organ was the backbone of several numbers. Peyroux’s smoky voice and phrasing, which often recalled Billie Holiday, was the evening’s stand-out instrument, though.

Peyroux established her career by covering the masters and she got a couple heavyweights out early. Leonard Cohen’s “River of Tears” was followed by Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” On that song, Peyroux crawled inside the lyric “I could stay with you forever/and never realize the time” and delivered a spectacular performance as comfortable as a Sunday afternoon nap with a lover.

Halfway through the set, Peyroux recreated her days busking on the streets of Paris as her band huddled around her playing on a box, upright bass, mandolin and blow-organ. For the only time that night, Peyroux’s acoustic guitar lead the band as she sang “La Javanaise” and “Don’t Cry Baby.” If she performed half as good on the streets as she did in the Folly, Peyroux likely found her cap filled with coins in no time.

Between songs, Peyroux chatted with the audience, playfully pointing out the lyric in Dylan’s song refers to the French poet Arthur “Rimbaud” and not Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo,” discussing the inspiration behind her character song “Our Lady of Pigalle” and introducing her hit “I’m All Right” as a “happy break-up song.”

Peyroux performed all but two songs from her new album, “Bare Bones,” during the course of her 90-minute set. She completely ignored her 1996 debut album “Dreamland,” which may have frustrated some long-time fans. Instead the evening’s remaining songs were split between the two other albums she released this decade.

Opening act Steve Poltz was a welcome addition to the bill. Accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, the singer/songwriter quickly won over the crowed with his frequently funny songs. A rapid-fire talking blues somehow touched on everything from the winter holidays, fruit cake, Barack Obama and YouTube, while “Brief History of My Life” somehow combined Poltz’s love of baseball with stories of his first communion. Poltz is best known for helping Jewel write “You Were Made For Me.” He closed his 35-minute set with “Everything About You,” a song that appeared on the “Notting Hill” soundtrack.

With a night filled with so many stand-out moments – from Peyroux’s sly reading of “You Can’t Do Me,” which she wrote with Walter Becker, to the bouncy optimism of “Instead” – Peyroux left no doubt that her songbook had more legs than a glass of good wine.

Setlist: Dance Me To the End of Love, Bare Bones, Don’t Wait Too Long, River of Tears, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Damn the Circumstances, I’m All Right, A Little Bit, La Javanaise, Don’t Cry Baby, Love and Treachery, You Can’t Do Me, Our Lady of Pigalle, I Must Be Saved, Instead, Somethin’ Grand.