“It sounds like the answer to my prayers,” was Michelle Shocked’s response to a fan’s suggestion that she play at the House of Righteous Music on a night that had been marked TBA on her calendar forever. The timing could have been better, I already had two shows this week- Will Johnson on Tuesday and Jon Langford on Friday – but I couldn’t say no. I put the fan who had put us in touch in charge of hospitality and said let’s do it. After all, as I said in my show announcement, I once heard Shocked’s excellent song “Anchorage” while shopping at Woodman’s. This was as close to a mainstream artist as KHoRM had ever gotten, even if her mainstream popularity was nearly two decades ago.
I only have one of Shocked’s CDs, Short Sharp Shocked, so I didn’t expect to know many of the songs she played tonight. Surprisingly, I knew quite a few, and I have her iPod to thank. She said as she had been driving from show to show across the country she’d been listening to a lot of music. For some reason that record was on it, and every time one of the songs would come up, she’d think “man, she’s good,” not realizing immediately that it was herself. After an opening set from the audience, which consisted of singalong songs like “This Land is Your Land” and likely worked better in concept than in practice, she went right for the kill, opening with “Anchorage.” This was the updated version, we found out that “the brand new baby girl” in the song had just given birth to her own baby girl, and that they no longer live in Anchorage, in fact she had stopped to visit them on this tour, and most importantly that her friend felt left out because she never gets mentioned by name, “How come it’s all Leroy this and Leroy that?” After she finished she quipped, “some of you might want to just leave right now.” If you had you wouldn’t have heard some of the other great songs from that record like “Old Woman” and “The L & M Don’t Stop Here Anymore.”
There were two themes tonight. One was “Roccupy,” a reference to the Occupy movement that started in New York and gained momentum across the country. In fact, Shocked had been arrested in the breakup of the Occupy LA camp. Shocked has always been political, often using the stage as a platform for her beliefs and this show was as much about that as it was music. She had invited several guest speakers to tell their stories about homelessness and foreclosure and she littered the stage with protest signs and popped a tent on top of the organ.
The other theme was much less heavy and much more artistic. As she set up for her show she unfurled several large banners emblazoned with paintings of iconic women. The first was blues singer Billie Holiday, the second actress Marilyn Monroe, the third artist Frida Kahlo, while the fourth, which she called gratuitous, was of her. The artwork had been done by her “sweetheart,” painter David Willardson, whom she called in the middle of the show. After the audience gave him a hearty greeting, he expanded on his reason for each of the paintings as Shocked held her phone to the microphone. Each of the paintings had an associated song, which she had planned to play on her Casio keyboard. She had been heading up the steps to get it out of her car when she saw the old organ my brother had “donated” to the basement years ago. “Does that work?” she asked. To the best of my knowledge it did. So I vacuumed the cobwebs and wiped the dust off and we moved it to the stage. I sent my brother a picture of her playing it mid-show, “look, Michelle Shocked is playing your organ!” “You mean your organ,” he shot back. At the end of the night I had her sign it.
If that seems like a lot for one show, it was. She played for nearly three hours with only one short break, though she did give people the opportunity to leave earlier. A little after ten she said that if you needed to relieve a babysitter or get to bed, you could leave now, because the show was over. She made the same announcement at 10:30, but continued to play requests until almost 11. With all that was going on this week, I had hesitated to do the show, but in all honesty it may have been one of the easiest shows I’ve done. It sold out in days, Shocked was grateful, and it was a name that people who don’t know any of the other artists I host actually recognize. And that is something.