Taking Centre Stage

She took the evening off from her day job with the geriatric geezers who don’t rock every night anymore. On this night, at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival she was centre stage, not 20 feet from stardom.

Immediately after the show she flew to Pittsburg to rejoin the Rolling Stones, who she has toured with as backup vocalist since 1989. This night Lisa Fischer was the leader, not the backup.

I must admit, she captivated me at with her opening song, “Breath of Heaven,” which she credited to Amy Grant. It was a stunning rendition, and a brave move to open with a Christmas tune. Not that many in the audience would have recognized it. (And I disagree with the credit she gave. Yes, Amy co-wrote the song, but it really is a Chris Eaton piece. Maybe Lisa figured no-one in the audience would have a clue who Chris Eaton is.)

She provided a good mix of music, letting her band Grand Baton share a good chunk of the time with extended instrumentals. It was a jazz festival after all, so I guess she could be forgiven – but I would have preferred more vocals and less guitar noodling.

Music can be a funny business. In theory someone with his much talent should be a major star. But Lisa Fischer is known more for who she has backed up than for her own material, She did do one solo album, in 1991, which won a Grammy Award, but that didn’t translate into lasting stardom. (She did sing her biggest hit from that album, “How Can I Ease The Pain,” to appreciative applause.) The lady has shown though that she can sing – and that she can wail. Channeling her inner Led Zeppelin with a version of “Rock and Roll” that I think Robert Plant would have appreciated.

It was a night for cover tunes. “Jumping Jack Flash was far more ethereal than when she sings it with Mick. “Miss You” had a sparkling new arrangement that is perhaps better than what the Stones do. Robert Palmer’s “Victim of Love” received a solid treatment.

The show ended though with a whimper not a bang. The showcase tune for any Rolling Stones backup singer is “Gimme Shelter.” Mick Jagger is pretty much an afterthought when the Stones take full flight; it is the soaring female vocal that takes your breath away, that makes the song a standout.

Lisa’s version of the song didn’t soar. It didn’t even really take flight. It started with promise: A slow buildup had me anticipating a guitar crescendo followed by some apocalyptic wailing. The song is a warning of impending doom, with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse saddled up and ready to ride. Unfortunately, in this version they stayed in the paddock.

I understand Lisa Fischer’s need to make her own statement with other people’s songs. Unfortunately she missed the boat completely on “Gimme Shelter,” sending me home with impressions of a good show that should have been a great one.

(I took some pictures, and video but the WordPress software has decided not to insert them into this post. If you click the link below you can see Lisa singing “Breath of Heaven” at a concert last year.)

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