by Frank Goodman
This afternoon I spoke for the most of an hour with one of the more controversial musicians of our age, Michelle Shocked. I had planned to interview her live on the day of her recent appearance in Nashville, but hadn't gotten over a bad cold, and certainly wasn't about to expose a touring artist. But I did go down and catch a half dozen or so songs at the show.
The band was very sharp. They were awaiting an Irish guitarist hung up on papers (and Michelle made a crack about how one apparently had to be from the Middle East applying to flight school to get cleared in a hurry). Two buffed black cats on bass and keys, both super good; two white guys on drums and trumpet, the latter used effects and had an impressive range of hip sounds. It's a shame I don't know anyone's names, but I was sick, like I say. The only player I met was Bart, who I believed to be her husband, though no one mentioned that. Aside from handling the tour manager duties, he also played accordion and pedal steel, no less. Michelle was on a Strat up front, handled it real well. The basic groove was an R&B/Gospel affair, but with a number of other elements freely woven through it: dub music, folk music, punk music. Not a collection of things one is used to hearing from one band.
I was a little dismayed by what I thought were confrontational moments between the artist and the audience. After the first song, she asked did the audience really like living here in Nashville, and we said, yeah, that we did. To that she responded that that just confirmed her suspicions, that we really didn't know any better, did we. I didn't know quite what to make of that, or of the half jesting admonishments of the people who made requests or the guy selling roses, but I won't belabor what in retrospect seems less important now. I see all that now as just a kind of confrontational interaction, she's an engager. It may not always be hearts and flowers, but Michelle Shocked is showing up and sounding great, and she is definitely interacting with you.
Our conversation was warm and friendly. I was very impressed by her uniformly. She was focused and eloquent, compelling, and yes, charming. Before we share that conversation with you, some background on this rather unique character is in order. The following is culled and edited from many sources on the Net, some of which wouldn't even let me back later, when I looked for whom to credit. Whatever. continue