Neneh Cherry established herself as a perfectionist right from the beginning, starting and restarting “Falling Leaves” until it was right. Four attempts and a change of in-ear monitors later, she was happy and so was everyone else.
The rest of the set at Elsewhere was flawless, drawing primarily from last year’s Broken Politics. Cherry’s voice was gorgeous, equally supple and lived-in, steeped in jazz, forged by punk and tested by hip hop. It defies categorization.
Introducing “Black Monday,” one of the set’s highlights, Cherry told the story of how it was inspired by Polish women’s struggle against strict anti-abortion laws. Of “Synchronized Devotion,” she simply connected the dots between the broken politics of our time and the duty of artists and the rest of us to resist.
Her band, anchored by husband Cameron McVey’s synth wizardry, was terrific, too, bringing all that was required of Cherry’s many moods: energy, enthusiasm and impeccable playing. Percussionist Rosie Bergonzi was particularly exciting to watch.
Amid the wealth of material from Broken Politics, Cherry went back—way back—just a few times, with her emotional elaboration on Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (from 1990’s Red Hot + Blue benefit comp) and two songs from 1989’s Raw Like Sushi (the wise-and-weary “Manchild,” played late in the main set, and a jubilant sing-along version of “Buffalo Stance” to end the night).
In the pantheon of goddesses ripped out of magazines and taped on the wall next to my bed circa 1993—along with Patti, Polly Jean, Tori, Tracy, Suzanne, Courtney, Madonna, Miki and the ladies of L7—Neneh Cherry was the one who took longest to see, and she was wonderful. It’s inspiring to hear her in such fine form and so committed to the art she’s creating at this point in her life. (I wouldn’t be above begging for a Raw Like Sushi/Homebrew-heavy show, though.)
Openers Lafawndah and Ian Isiah sounded cool, at least what I gleaned from their quick sets.
—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich