Although I have traveled to St. Cloud many times to hear blues performances at several venues in the area; this was my first visit to the newly restored Paramount Theatre in downtown St. Cloud to hear the talented Marcia Ball.
The Texas born, Louisiana bred Marcia Ball plays piano and sings music that is deeply rooted in Louisiana rhythm and blues blended with Texas blues and a touch of rock and roll. Ball is a great entertainer and an exceptional piano player who started learning her craft at the tender age of five. Ball is currently touring behind her tenth recording, So Many Roads, a great follow-up to her debut for Alligator Records, Presumed Innocent. Ball was also recently featured in the Clint Eastwood directed final film of Martin Scorcese's PBS series, The Blues.
The band opened its first set with the up temp blues rocker, "Rockin' Is My Business," with Ball on vocals, featuring the members of the band on solos throughout the song. Ball eventually sat down to pound the keyboards, crossing her legs as she played in her characteristic style. Members of Ball's band at the Paramount included Pat Boyack (guitar), Dan Bennett (bass), Brad Andrew (saxophone) and Mark Wilson (drums), with Ball handling piano and vocal duties for the evening. The opener was followed by a song called "Red Beans" from Presumed Innocent, showcasing Ball's barrelhouse piano style and some honking saxophone by Brad Andrew. Pat Boyack offered a very clean and precise guitar solo on the next number, "Just Kiss Me," an example of some doo-wop style rhythm and blues.
The first set highlighted several songs from Ball's latest recording, So Many Rivers, including "Foreclosing on the House of Love" and "Dance With Me." During the first set Ball also performed what she referred to as a blues number written in the spirit of Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and others entitled, "Give It Up, Give In." Another song during the set was dedicated to the spirit of the great Louisiana piano players, called "That's Enough of That Stuff."
Ball's opening segment of the show concluded with an excellent version of Randy Newman's classic tune, "Louisiana" and a boogie piano number called "Big Shot," that brought the audience to its feet and had several in the crowd dancing in the aisles and other more open areas of the theater.
Following a brief intermission, the band returned to the stage for its second set, starting things off with "Sing It!" the title track from her 1998 collaboration with Irma Thomas and Tracey Nelson. Next, the band broke into a Fat's Domino style rock n' roll song entitled "I Love You." The song included another excellent guitar solo by Texas guitarist Pat Boyack. The band worked its way into a Louisiana boogie woogie frenzy with songs like "La Ti Da," "Big Mouth" and the classic, "Sea Cruise."
The midpoint of the set featured more songs from the new CD, including "Hurricane on China Lake" and "Honey Pie (I Miss Your Love)." On "Hurricane on China Lake," the shoe on Ball's "rockin' foot" (the one in the air) flew off, leaving her temporarily with only the shoe on her "tappin' foot" (the one on the floor) remaining.
The scheduled songs of the second set included a song about a woman desiring the best of everything called "Right Tool For The Job," featuring some excellent and varied guitar by Boyack that illustrated both his talents and his Texas influences. The final song was one that appears to have become a performance tradition with Ball, "Let Me Play With Your Poodle," performed with a level of enthusiasm that belied the many times that the song has undoubtedly been performed by Marcia Ball. The song ended with Ball pounding the keyboards with only Mark Wilson's drums behind her.
After a three song encore that included the title track from So Many Rivers, and a song yet to be recorded entitled "When My Baby Comes Home," Marcia Ball and her band left the stage to a standing ovation from a very appreciative audience. The event concluded with Ball sitting at a table in the theater foyer, signing autographs and making small talk with her fans. It represented a wonderful conclusion to a marvelous evening.
The Paramount Theatre is a historic and excellent venue for music or theatrical performances. To find out about upcoming events at the Paramount, visit their website at www.paramountarts.org.
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