The Dakota Jazz Club is an odd place. It’s small. It’s old. It brings in ridiculous talent and sometimes Prince randomly shows up and plays a set. It’s located in downtown Minneapolis and on a rather balmy (27°) night in Minnesota Lisa Fischer took the stage and kept a capacity crowd warm for about two and a half hours.
I didn’t know what to expect, really. I knew a little bit about Lisa Fischer but not much. I knew that she’s been singing sassy, powerful backups for the Rolling Stones since the George H. W. administration and recently accompanied Trent Reznor while on tour with Nine Inch Nails. Throughout her career she’s sang with Luther Vandross, Sting, Tina Turner and won a Grammy for her own song, “How Can I Ease the Pain” off her album, So Intense. But the reason I went to see her sing is because my girlfriend loves the documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. I’ll admit I haven’t seen the film but I’ll probably watch it this weekend.
Lisa and three guys took the stage around 9:15 at night. One of the gents had a crazy amount of dreaded, disheveled hair and played the heck out of the saz—according to Wikipedia it’s an Iranian or Turkish stringed instrument. Basically, it looks and plays like a guitar with the hollow body of a sitar. He also played an electric guitar and sang backup. There was an upright bassist—which is almost always cool—and a drummer who played the jazzy set of songs quite nicely. The trio was musically solid but the greatest instrument on stage was Lisa Fischer’s voice.
She had two microphones. One was on a stand at the front edge of the stage and setup to project reverb. The other was in her hand and she moved it up, down, close to and far away from her mouth to create specific effects and clean, clear sounds. She was a master. There were times she spread her arms and let out some of the most powerful vocals I’ll ever hear. And there were times she spoke and sang so softly I could hardly hear her. Her low register was low and her high register was high and every note she went for, she hit perfectly and with great passion.
She sang mostly covers—all but one song—and kicked off the evening with an Amy Grant tune. She followed Amy with two other songs that I hadn’t heard of and I was kind of expecting it to be an easy listening kind of night. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she and her band started churning out rock classics. They started with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” followed by Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love.” Next she sang the first of many Stones songs, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” before nailing the Peggy Lee song “Fever.” It felt like she was just showing off. She was so good; so effortless. As she was singing “Addicted to Love” she took a lap around the audience and sang to, wrapped her arms around, and touched a few dozen people—me included. I think I played it cool. I probably didn’t. How could I? She’s sung with, flirted with, and touched Mick and Keith—I’ve seen it on YouTube. And, now, she’s also touched me. The degrees of separation between The Stones and me shrunk substantially on December 9, 2014.
She followed “Fever” with her Grammy winner, “How Can I Ease the Pain,” before finishing the set with stirring renditions of the Stones songs “Gimme Shelter” and “I Miss You.” Afterward, there was applause that beckoned her back out and to sing one more song so she did. She sang “Wild Horses” and it was most beautiful cover I’ve ever heard. It gave me chills and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. And then, that was it. The applause was loud and long from the crowd (mostly consisting of people who look like they teach history or English at local Universities). Everyone loved her. As my girlfriend and I walked out we overheard a woman tell her beaux, “Mick Jagger is damn lucky to have Lisa singing with him” and that “without Lisa the Stones wouldn’t be the same band.” While that’s debatable, one thing was for sure: everyone that packed into the quaint, venerable Dakota Jazz Club to see Lisa Fischer was about 20 feet from stardom that night. And it was pretty special.