The Best Concert You Didn't See: Madeleine Peyroux at Bomhard in April

By Tim Roberts

Photos By Jean Metcalfe

So what if it happened last month. If you were not one of the few who saw Madeleine Peyroux in concert on April 1 at the Bomhard Theatre at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, you missed a fine, laid-back show by one of the most promising talents who has ever graced the databits burned into a compact disc. Even though it was severely under-promoted and under-attended, Peyroux and her Lost Wandering Jazz and Blues Band charmed the audience with almost all the selections from her exceptional debut release Dreamland (reviewed in the March issue of LMN) and a few traditional blues surprises.

"When we come back, we hope to be in a bigger room," Peyroux joked as she and her band took the stage promptly at 8:00. Less than a third of the Bomhard's 622 seats were occupied, which, though disappointing, gave the show an intimacy much like the in-store performance she gave earlier that day at ear X-tacy on Bardstown Road. She launched right into "Walkin' After Midnight," which opens Dreamland, then followed with "Sit Right Down (and Write Myself a Letter)" and other selections.

Madeleine Peyroux visted with family members Bill and Pat Planche at ear X-tacy Records.

She was later joined by Dan Fitzgerald, a portly, snowy-haired African-American gentleman, with his single-string washtub bass. (painted white with "Lost Wandering Jazz and Blues Band" scrawled in red). He strutted and clowned around the stage as if he were drunk and crashing the performance of a band in some New Orleans bar. At the noontime performance at ear X-tacy, Peyroux said Fitzgerald is the man who taught her all the traditional songs she plays. Throughout the balance of the show at the Bomhard, he announced each tune, wrapping his patter in bawdy quips and anecdotes. But as Peyroux ended the show with her signature piece "Dreamland," he gazed upon her like a puffy-proud grandfather.

Reviewers and fans (including myself) have described her voice as a duplicate of Billie Holiday's: a sultry, slurry alto. While that part of her talent may be the most notable (her songwriting talents are often not considered), that is where the comparison begins and ends. Peyroux only sounds like Holiday. After hearing her sing "Always a Use," backed only by an acoustic guitar, I found her overall performance and musicianship is rooted in folk and traditional blues, just lightly spiced with jazz and swing.

A couple of friends I talked with after the show said that while they love her music, they thought Peyroux had no stage presence. Both are major fans of Dreamland and probably expected her to slide onstage in a shapely sequined gown and a gardenia nestled in her hair. Instead, Peyroux – a tall, strapping young woman – wore jeans and a sport shirt for the ear X-tacy performance, and a suede-like top and slacks at the Bomhard, far from the expectations. However, as I watched the show, I realized that Peyroux and her band are part of millennia-old tradition: buskers, the talented, ragged street band, concerned only with music, not appearance. Music is the show, not just a part of it. And, not surprisingly, it was on the streets of Paris that Peyroux learned that tradition, with the help of Dan Fitzgerald.

Peyroux sang for the customers at ear X-tacy Records

This show was one of "perhaps." Perhaps Peyroux should have performed in a smaller venue (like Jim Porter's or a room at Phoenix Hill). Perhaps the show could have been promoted earlier and harder. Perhaps Peyroux doesn't have a large enough repertoire. Perhaps she doesn't have a large enough fan base.

But perhaps she'll come back to Louisville. Perhaps more people will know about her. And perhaps Madeleine Peyroux will fill that bigger room she mentioned.

Special thanks go to Gabriel Gordon, the tour road manager, for coming through with a pair of tickets the promoters seemed to have forgotten to leave for me. And to Bob Ellis, a local relative of Madeleine's, for providing some background information.