This past Thursday evening, for an attentive and relatively quiet crowd at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, Joan Armatrading performed show #156 of an extensive world tour. There was no yelling, no moshing, no pushing; just a few hundred enraptured fans collectively, courteously enjoying the performance of a legend.
Armatrading, the aforementioned legend, belted, crooned and whispered a sublime 90-minute set with a stamina that most 64-year-olds have long forgotten.
Born on St. Kitts Island in the Caribbean, Armatrading was raised in the UK and started recording music in 1972 before playing shows that boasted renowned headliners like Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. She’s released a staggering 18 albums and been nominated for three Grammys. Her most widely-recognized hit, ‘Love and Affection,’ was a chart success in the UK and US alike, and launched her into a career that brought her fame at home and across the pond.
Taking the stage to an enthusiastic crowd at PVCH, Armatrading is clearly an adept, seasoned entertainer. A wildly talented musician, certainly; but more than that, she has an innate ability to engage hundreds of fans as if we were simply chatting in her kitchen as friends. An unassuming smile, feigned forgetfulness, and witty quips encourage audience interaction and participation. And in return, her fans are a devoted crowd, many singing along and calling out requests.
Her set was a fluid journey through her discography; a lengthy show that captivated. She alternates between delicately picking guitar melodies and outrightly bashing her instrument into song. Heartbreaking blues are delivered right on top of passionate love ballads and upbeat, clap-along pop. Most memorable was her encore ‘Willow,’ a soft but powerful, piano-driven finale to which the audience enthusiastically lent its voice.
If pressed to compare, her sound could be described as a happy marriage of Bonnie Raitt and Jimi Hendrix, favoring both catchy folk tunes and blaring guitar riffs. And yet, Armatrading really does stand alone, and in a career spanning over 40 years has managed to resist genre itself and produce a body of work that blends pop, rock, folk, blues and jazz.
While Armatrading has stated that she never plans to retire, this will be the last tour of her career. Her music and more of her incredible story can be found at JoanArmatrading.com.