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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Jill Sobule's all-inclusive 'America' sings along at City Vineyard

Jill Sobule's "When They Say 'We Want Our America Back,' What Do They Mean?"

Times being what they are, Jill Sobule's most important song in concert has got to be "When They Say 'We Want Our America Back,' What Do They Mean?"--her plaintive but pointed request for clarification from those Americans who claim to want to make America great again by keeping out essentially everyone who doesn't look or think like them.

Her loyal fan base is so hip to it by now that they sing along on the chorus, as they did last week (Mar. 14) at City Vineyard, when she played to a sold-out but at most half-full room, due to the big snowstorm scare that didn't quite pan out as big as predicted. But that didn't faze Sobule, who, affecting a low Marianne Faithfull voice, opened with a funny new song written on the way, "We Are Here for the Storm of the Century."

The rest of Sobule's set, as ever, maintained a serious tone ("Would You Have Hidden Me in Your Attic?"--from her ironically titled 1997 album Happy Town, evokes Nazi Germany in testing the depth of a relationship) while never giving up the playfulness that is equal part Sobule. She even turns a bigoted Twitter troll into a near positive: "It's just as easy to be nice as it is an a-hole," she sings, "just as easy to be kind as it is to be a jerk."

Accompanying herself on her small signature model Vagabond Traveler guitar, Sobule, who's so good a player that she was Lloyd Cole's guitarist in his 1997-1998 band The Negatives, produced some very cool organ-like effects on "Houdini's Box," from her self-titled 1995 second album. And from her 2011 album with John Doe A Day at the Pass, "Shaky Hands" showed that the shaky hands that she's suffered from since she was 20 ("I was a terrible waitress!") has no noticeable effect on her guitar playing.

A big small crowd-pleaser came with "Nothing to Prove" from Sobule's 2009 album California Years, in which she relates her discontent at visiting "a dying record company" for a business meeting, only to first have to get past a sullen 19-year-old girl who has no idea who she is—the same dreadful fate experienced by almost anyone in the music industry ("I hate when they use that word/And when they say they're in the industry, I say, 'Oh, are you in steel?'/Well, I got nothing to prove") now past thirtysomething.

And of course she played her big 1995 pre-Katy Perry pop hit "I Kissed a Girl," and noting that she's doing more and more house concerts, she performed a song that explains how fans can host one, declaring, in doing so, that "a house is not a home without me." That line, of course, evoked Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and in the night's biggest surprise, Sobule sang a spellbinding Bacharach-David "The Look of Love."

She'd come out at the end of the set to stand on a chair at a front table to get even closer to her listeners. "How's my ass?" she asked the one couple now sitting behind her. It beat her first question, after "Storm of the Century": "How are you guys liking our new president so far?"

And by the way, much of the set list, she noted, is on a forthcoming live CD, Jill Comes Alive, initial copies of which she burned on the plane to the gig and would sell after, she said, for $500 apiece. Whatever the price, she in fact had a lot of takers, and also nailed down a commitment for a future house concert.

"Nothing to Prove"



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