Tuesday, August 16, 2011



Be still my beating heart!! One of my favourite performing artistes is in South Africa. And she is performing at the hip & happening venue Tanz Cafe, and I have a ticket. One of my dearest friends and most kindred musical spirit and I are going to see Michelle Shocked!

We have to face it, we are star-struck. We have listened to, related to and idolised the amazing story teller, song writer and singer. We have sung her songs. All of them. For the last 25 years. We are transported back to our days of guitar plucking, perfect ideals, peace on earth....we are back in our magic yesteryears. Hey ‘Chell, we were wild then....ah....nostalgia!

And finally, we are in the car, on our way, tittering and gibbering and shaking with anticipation.

Kindred spirit friend receives an SMS from someone in-the-know at the venue : Michelle may not perform. Please wait.

We go anyway. We will camp outside. We will picket. We will see this performance. Superstars don’t do this one hour prior to doors open, do they? Nah.....

The line-up, as advertised, is GHAPI (and let us be perfectly honest now ladies, we’ve have all had some sort of crush on the singing drummer dude at some stage in the last 2 decades, or at the very least, coveted his wild mane of blonde curls), and then, oh yes, MICHELLE SHOCKED.

We get into the venue. OK....exhale.....Michelle will perform, but she will go on first. We are so very excited, so revved up, so expectant....we surely know the very heart and soul of this woman. We have LIVED her every song. She is our universal soul sister.

Michelle Shocked is a hugely gifted performer. She tries to (and mostly does) connect with her audience through her stories, her music, her belting raw and beautiful vocals, and her absolute presence and ownership of the stage. Her music is real. It comes from her soul, you know? In-your-face lyrics. Say it, sister!

Sadly, this angel from our past seemed very disconnected and removed from this country when she tried to entice from us, her host Africans, a confession (if you will) of our demons that she veritably insisted were still lurking from pre-1994. Our “elephants”. Huh? A little nerve went “twang” in my head. Was I misreading her tirade on apartheid and bigotry and slavery and Bush and Obama and people who judge and discrimination and big-haired Texan women and femininity and originality and sexuality and conspiracies, the all white audience, (she’s Michelle Shocked, she’s in South Africa and she’s surprised? I’m thinking this chick is lucky that anyone knows her at all) the brotherhood of man, our universal family, and....and....and..... I thought she should add “condescending” to the list....thankfully no one asked me. At this early stage of the evening it would be like standing up at a dinner party and saying loudly “I DON’T LIKE DOGS”.

Trying valiantly to let this bizarre new energy wash over us, her vocal performance was still great. Not so much the band, though. Oh make no mistake, Michelle Shocked had some cream SA musicians backing her, but it was completely obvious to any Shocked fan that only one member of the band actually knew her music. Michelle has a quirky off-beat funky feel in all her songs. You might get away with calling most of it “blues” (if you had to give it a label). But if you tried to actually play it in a standard “twelve bar blues” way, you would be off the mark. Right off the mark. The music would lose the Shocked-ness. And that is exactly what happened.

Now in-between all of this; the disturbing undertone of bitterness, the shoddily rehearsed band, the tacky sound check.....(and I tried not to, I swear I tried not to)....I overheard a few reasons that Michelle almost didn’t perform. Hairs that I didn’t even know I had stood on end.

And as the night wore on, the beautiful songs that connected us to our idyllic and ill-spent youth started to sound loud and aggressive and “eina”. It wasn’t the music so much as the persona that left us feeling, well, betrayed I guess. Toxic nostalgia.
One sideways glance at my kindred musical friend and I knew that her memories were crumbling like mine. We were losing a piece of something we knew we would never regain.

Dotted throughout the evening was Michelle’s constant reminder that people often say “just shut up and sing”. Lady, take the advice. No really, TAKE THE ADVICE!

Now here follows folks, the piece de resistance of the final demise of a musical demi-goddess, in my humble opinion, of course. Now picture the scene.....

At the end of her show, she said they very nearly didn’t perform because of a “double booking by mistake”. She told us that she had to leave the stage “because another band, um...”......(awkward silence – you know the kind?).......leans over to bass player with a “quick tell me” look.....(another awkward silence – you getting the picture?).......”nope, didn’t get that”, leans closer to bass player who by this time is yelling into her ear (for FS, even I can hear him by now).....( I kid you not, another dramatic pause)......and finally......she spits out – “oh yes, GHAPI is going to play for you”.

You all know this moment I am talking about....a moment where you go...WTF? Did I actually just see that? No really.....WHAT THE F*CK??????????????

She had committed the unforgiveable sin. She had publically tried to humiliate another performer. Is this what I dragged myself from the “rustig” Magaliesburg for? Risking personal injury with Jozi road rage, potential road blocks so “sorry, no Jagies for me”? Did she really just insult one of our own?

And with a flourish and a fond farewell she left the stage in a puff of peace and light (give me strength), with the band playing their twelve-bar-blues in the background.

And the band played on. The audience called for an encore. And Michelle stayed put. Time passed, a stupendously embarrassing time for her band and the audience, and she was very clearly NOT coming back out (duh, she had locked the band room door behind her on her dramatic exit). How much twelve-bar-blues can you listen to? It starts to scratch, you know? To grate on your last bloody aching nerve when all you’ve had to drink is an Appletizer.

Then suddenly on stage, this huge presence, this giant of a man has commandeered her microphone and is SINGING. Is this part of the act? And the band plays on. What else can they do? Off the cuff this man is praising Michelle with his voice in song. With as much passion and energy as the woman herself gave us just moments before. He serenades her talent, her unsurpassed poetry, her magnificent performance, the legend that she is. Thanking her and asking...nay BEGGING her to come back on stage. She needs to give us more of her Shocked-ness, because we love her.

Another one of those WTF moments is hitting me. The man on stage....it’s GHAPI! A white Praise Singer? UBUNTU! With this one offering, he is saving an entire evening that really should have gone to hell. And I am proudly South African. If I had a flag, I would wave it. Hell, I’d paint the f*cking thing on my face!

Ms Shocked came back. She had to. If you know our drummer-singer, he’s large and in charge. No chance of saying no to him....even if you have barricaded the band room door behind your sorry self.

Sigh. Enough of that. She did some more songs and the band completely missed the essence of the last number “If Love was a Train” (did someone bother to give the drummer her original track??).....performance over.

Moving gaily forward however, GHAPI’s performance rocked. Powerful, electric – the stuff that makes your gut throb. Singer/drummer Phillip gave me a “we’re not worthy” moment. (Thanks for lending Michelle Shocked’s drummer your kit babe, mega professional courtesy!) The lead guitarist and bass player were wicked. Polished, edgy, tight – styling synergy, killer band!

Note to self : Sister, you don’t have to go far to be star struck.....it’s happening here in Jozi!

GHAPI –Renewed respect dude. For your awesome talent, but especially for your professional grace. Local is lekker – VIVA!

MICHELLE SHOCKED – If your intention was to ‘Chell Shock us, you surely did! Next time, please just shut up and sing!


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