Liv Warfield at the Dakota, 8/28/14

Categories: Last Night
Liv Warfield
with the NPG Hornz and Luke James
Dakota Jazz Club
Minneapolis, MN
Thursday, August 28

"Paul McCartney got it wrong" is a hell of a way to start a song. In Liv Warfield's "Blackbird," her bird is less of a tragic symbol and more of an irrepressible individual. Her whole band, also called Blackbird, settled into a simple but powerful blues groove. They were joined by the full strength of the horns from Prince's New Power Generation. The rhythm smoked, fueled by the fire of the scorching guitar work from Ryan Waters. "I'm just a black--" Warfield started to sing, and then the band and the Dakota fell dead silent.

Warfield coolly surveyed the crowd, raised her hands above her head, and in a well-practiced motion, moved her arms up and down like wings twice. Very few performers have the presence to make a gesture that broad look effortlessly cool, and she's one of them. The band exploded back with full force as she finished the phrase, ending the second half of the set in a wash of brass. It was theatrical, spontaneous, and powerful, and above all a display of musical skill, much like the night as a whole. 

To get this out of the way: there were a lot of people at this show, including myself, who expected to see Prince. The suspicion wasn't entirely unwarranted. Warfield first worked with our patron saint of funk in 2010, singing vocals on Lotusflow3r. She credits much of her recent musical growth to her work with Prince. He was the executive producer on her most recent album, The Unexpected. There were some credible rumors floating around that the man himself was in the building to support his protégé.

At one point late in the set, Warfield said the band would be wrapping up soon, "unless there are some surprises we don't know about." During the encore, it seemed like even the folks on stage were whispering among themselves and looking toward the wings for signs of the Purple One.

Unless he played an ultra-secret show after bar close, Prince never materialized. There was a bit of disappointment in the room as the amps were unplugged and equipment stored away. A small crowd stuck around to the bitter end. It makes sense -‑ seeing a living legend in a setting as intimate as the Dakota would have been incredible. But all's well that ends well. Whatever the reason for Prince's no-show, the result was that people who might not have otherwise showed up got to see more than two hours of inspired performances. It's hard to get too upset about that.

Cell phones had to be checked at the door. Though this is hardly a needed step at every show, it was a great addition to the atmosphere of the Dakota. The improvisation-filled music of Liv Warfield and the NPG Hornz demand full attention, and it's hard to make the argument that a particularly gnarly sax solo would be improved by a glowing screen documenting it in low quality video. Being present was important, for good reason.

There's no comparison between Warfield's sound on record and the experience of seeing her perform live. She is as much an actor as she is a singer. When she sings about going crazy, there's a visceral sense of inner turmoil. When she begs her lover to come back, it feels almost voyeuristic to listen in. The emotion is there in every line, and she interacts with the audience with absolute comfort and ease.

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