Donald Trump has it all wrong. “Nobody knows better than you guys, walls don’t fu*king work!”. Dana Fuchs is back at The Harmonie, and as powerful a presence onstage as ever. Anyone who might be concerned that motherhood would blunt the lady’s famous dynamism was left in no doubt that with a new son (Aidan), a new record label (her own) and a new record (‘Love Lives On’) as inspiration the lady’s live shows are as emotionally laden as ever. On Sunday, the Dana Fuchs Church of Love & Life was open once again for business.
With her new album not yet released, there might have been a question mark about what the music would be tonight, but there was never any question that the lady would be as photographable as ever. Within five minutes of the doors opening I am surrounded by Dana t-shirt wearing, camera-wielding fans; possibly beating the camera record that I experienced at Bonn Harmonie during the Blues Caravan ‘Girls with Guitars’ tour. (you guessed, almost 100% male). I didn’t know any of them, but they all seemed to know each other – or maybe it’s the friendly spirit that Dana Fuchs shows always seem to create.
As always with Dana, the new music is a window into her soul and emotions. Every disc, and every concert is an emotional roller-coaster ride. The tragic deaths of sister Donna, brothers Don and Dan, her father, and most recently Dana’s mother. Every release has had a lot of emotional baggage and the new release ‘Love Lives On’ is no exception. Even the arrival of a baby son was tinged initially in sorrow as Dana’s mother passed away before she could see her daughter’s pride and joy.
A poignant song on the album and indeed on the stage tonight is ‘Love Lives On’ about her mother’s passing. Dana often takes time to explain the emotions and stories behind her compositions, as with ‘Faithful Sinner’ and it’s inspiration from the lives of her father and grandfather. It can be emotionally painful at a Dana Fuchs concert – the lady’s confessional/emotional soul is always on the line. I find myself wondering why she does this night after night. Music is the healer they say, and usually, they mean the musician healing the listener. In the case of Dana Fuchs it’s the other way around – or mutual perhaps?
One of my favourite numbers from the (excellent) new disc is ‘Calling Angels’ and Dana suggests before singing that we all think of loved ones we’ve lost, and remember them during the song. I hope I’m not starting to give the impression that the show will send all visitors home as manic depressives because in fact there is an astoundingly positive vibe both during and after her show. The lyrics of ‘Sitting On’ may be heavy laden but the beat itself is up and funky. Walter Latupeirissa is happily enjoying playing a new bass guitar – his smile almost eclipsing the spotlights behind. Piero Perelli is similarly upbeat on the drum stool if you pardon the pun, and new boy (to German fans at least) Nicola Venturini on keyboards also has time for a smile or two and a chat with fans at the front throughout the show.
After seeing Dana a half dozen times now it finally dawned on me that, where holding a microphone is concerned, she’s a ‘southpaw’. As a result, for the first time, I’ve set up to take pictures from Jon Diamond’s side of the stage. I should have done this years ago! Jon has long been an unsung hero and one of my favourite guitarists. He plays much of the time on the chunkier strings of his Telecaster. Not for him the long trebly solos that screech out of many a guitarman’s amp. His sound is smooth and melodic so that when he steps up to the B and top E strings it catches the ear. The hat on his head says he’s a workman doing his job. If Jon Diamond is a labourer though it’s clearly a labour of love teasing out those notes.
Diamond’s face is pretty inscrutable throughout the show. There are two extra players (Erik van Oppen – trumpet and Tim Paters – saxophone) onstage to fill out the Memphis sound of the new songs. They’re good too – only it’s early days on the tour and no one, least of all the duo themselves, seems too sure where they come in. At one stage Dana introduces them to play and they look confused. Diamond, inscrutable again, calmly points out “They’re not on this one” without batting an eyelid. Later on when Dana’s capo breaks into pieces during ‘Battle Lines’ She’s sure John is stressing out over it, “as guitar players do” she smiles, before getting us all to chant mantra-like “Calm down Jon!”. If he does get stressed over these things then he must get stressed a lot – later on the cable comes out from the back of Dana’s Martin acoustic taking her by surprise so that she fumbles for the plug only to laugh “How many blondes does it take to plug in a guitar cable?!!!”. Jon Diamond is still looking inscrutable, but I almost detect a nervous twitch in his cheek.
If you’re looking forward to seeing Dana on her upcoming tour and wondering about the album, then I can safely reassure you that you are in for a treat on both counts. The set is pretty much built around the new material, but despite the absence of old favourites, it seems as strong as ever. I love the seductively sung ‘Sedative’ and a tip of the hat to Dana’s hero Otis Redding with ‘Nobody’s fault but Mine’.
Her energy and enthusiasm show that the pregnancy break has done her good as has having new material to present. No surprise though in two of the encores tonight with ‘Long Long Game’ and finally a whirlwind ‘Helter Skelter’ but certainly a nice surprise too as Dana picked up her acoustic guitar once more (something she does a lot of now I am happy to report!). “Here’s one by Johnny Cash that I’m sure you will know” she announces before ‘Ring of Fire’. “I’m doing it my way because no-one can do it like Johnny did”. Truth to tell, there is no one doing shows quite like Dana Fuchs does them either.
With the new release made via crowd funding on Pledge Music and released on Dana’s own label (the RUF contract is over now) the roadcrew isn’t stretching to someone selling t-shirts. There’s a long queue of people at the merchandise stand waiting to grab a copy of the new, as yet unreleased, CD but no one to sell it to them. Jon Diamond arrives with CD carton under one arm and a cashbox under the other. When will Dana be out to sign? he’s asked a hundred times in as many seconds. If he’s stressed I couldn’t tell you. The inscrutable look is firmly on his face. I leave for home suspecting that Dana is grabbing some time with young Aidan but sure that if she came out in half an hour the fans would still be waiting because they know she WILL be there. I know it too. They are as much Dana’s medicine in this hard-knock world as she is theirs.