Rosanne Raneri opens series at Red

Rosanne Raneri (Red , Pittsfield, Mass., 1/19/02)

by Seth Rogovoy

(PITTSFIELD, Mass., January 20, 2002) – While it might be a stretch to call the new concert series at the new club, Red, evidence of a “renaissance” in downtown Pittsfield – whether it be renaissance in the literal sense of rebirth or renewed life or figuratively connoting a cultural revival – there certainly was evidence of life and culture on Saturday night, when the club had its official grand opening as a live music venue with a performance featuring folk-pop singer-songwriter Rosanne Raneri.

Raneri herself was full of life, a forceful, confident, dynamic performer who in her first 40-minute set offered a selection of the original compositions that have garnered her acclaim as one of the Northeast region’s up-and-coming singer-songwriters.

Originally from New York’s Capital Region and now based in the Boston area, Raneri is a gifted vocalist and a talented lyricist. She writes conversationally, and several of the songs she played on Saturday night were addressed to an unnamed other, sometimes merely as a receptor for narratives like “Vanishing Point,” sometimes as a more direct participant in the matter at hand, such as “Not Quite Philadelphia,” in which the object of the song is subtly put down for his or her casual way with a greeting.

The latter song also illustrated Raneri’s gift for the long lyric line, a clever strategy which ties a song together by bringing a listener through several lines, all of which contain one thought (as opposed to the more common and more risky technique of leaving it to the listener to do the work of connecting several short phrases in a row). The song kicks off with the attention-grabbing, “You greet me with a kiss and you don’t know why you have been so willing to wrap your arms around what you don’t know.” The chorus is even more striking, in that seven complete phrases are strung together as one thought with the deft use of conjuctions and the sort of run-on devices that high school English teachers always warned against.

In addition to her acoustic guitar, Raneri was accompanied by Tony Markellis on bass and Joe Hetko on acoustic guitar. The arrangements gave the songs rhythmic and tonal ballast, as Markellis stuck to simple, upbeat patterns and Hetko filled in the spaces between Raneri’s vocal phrases with fillips of melody and contrast.

Raneri’s songs were in the Joni Mitchell, jazz-influenced folk-pop vein. Her husky, dusky voice was well-suited to the material, which occasionally ventured into country-rock territory (“Jojo’s Like a Train”) but pretty much stuck to her winning formula. She closed her first set with a version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” which showcased her voice’s affinity for jazz, if not her mastery of jazz technique.

Local artists Eric Underwood and Eladia warmed up the crowd with about one hour’s worth of songs, mostly drawn from their wonderful upcoming album, Down From the Treehouse. The duo has come up with a unique sound and style; moody, haunting, emotional minor-key ballads that say as much musically as they do lyrically.

The club’s debut merits a few words, too. Below sidewalk level on Wendell Avenue Extension, the room is long and narrow, with the stage at one end, a bar to the side about halfway back, and booths and tables spread throughout. A newly-installed sound system with speakers strategically placed throughout the room insured no dead spots. The tables toward the rear are on elevated floors, insuring good sight lines throughout the club, whose walls are coated in corrugated sheet metal, giving the venue a cool, industrial feel.

The long, narrow shape of the room gives the club a galley- or tunnel-like feel. Performers, particularly the gregarious Raneri, were able to make contact with those sitting at tables right up front, where white tablecloths and two-drink minimum signs gave the feel of a jazz club. But beyond the first few tables, the distance from the stage didn’t allow for much performer-audience contact or sense of intimacy. This might not be an ideal space for listening acts like those that performed on Saturday night.

When bands play, however, the area in front of the stage will be a dance floor, and that might prove to be the club’s greatest advantage, providing room for those who want to dance up front and plenty of space towards the rear for those who came to socialize with background music.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Jan. 22, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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