Shocked at the Thunderdome

By Mark Clark

No one ever accused Michelle Shocked of being timid.

She's proving why on her current tour, which rolled into Louisville for a performance May 15 at the Brewery's Thunder-dome. Shocked is touring in support of Kind Hearted Woman, her new, self-produced album, which is available for sale only at her concerts.

The disc is a collection of ten demos rumored to have been rejected by PolyGram executives. Most artists would have glumly shelved such material and tried something else. Not Shocked.

Reportedly, the folks at PolyGram thought her new material was too weak to release. The crowd at Thunderdome might beg to differ.

Shocked spent the first hour of her 2 1/2-hour performance playing Kind Hearted Woman nearly in its entirety. The few hundred enthusiastic fans in attendance greeted every number warmly — and with good reason. The album's introspective, folky tunes recall tunes from Short Sharp Shocked, many fans' favorite Michelle Shocked LP.

Performing solo, with a white Stratocaster her only accompaniment, she delivered spellbinding renditions of new cuts like: "Homestead," about a young widow who begins taking in hobos; "Cold Comfort," about a man whose wife is killed by a drunk driver; and "A Child Like Grace," about a mother grieving her dead daughter.

She spiced the new material with amusing anecdotes about how the tunes were written, her take on the song's themes and her observations about life.

For example, before playing one new song, "Fever Breaks," she told a heartbreaking story about her grandmother, who recently died of lymphoma. The lesson she says she learned from her grandma is "live until you die."

Shocked quickly established and maintained an easy rapport with the crowd. She even signed autographs afterwards.

The loose, homey atmosphere of a Shocked show recalls early Bruce Springsteen performances. You feel as if you've just been welcomed into a laid-back jam session in the singer's rec room.

Backing band Hot House Flowers joined in as the Kind Hearted Woman segment of the show was winding down. Soon after, the performances segued into a more rocking affair.

Shocked moved on to popular Short, Sharp Shocked numbers like "Anchorage" and "Memories of East Texas." By the time she and the band got around to "Run to Gladewater," the show was in full-steam-ahead, rocking form.

Shocked and company showed their sense of humor by punctuating "If Love Was a Train" with "the world famous butt dance," a comical, fanny-grinding gyrating — then made the crowd butt dance for them.

Two cuts from Shocked's last LP, Arkansas Traveler, also proved to be highlights, as well — searing versions of "Over the Waterfall" and "Prodigal Daughter." More material from this terrific, overlooked record would have been welcome.

Still, in all, it was a splendid evening.