Newark’s historic Midland Theater was warmed Sunday night
by the glow of shared talent and middle aged love. For a Valentine’s Day
show Singer/ Songwriter Marc Cohn returned to his Ohio roots for an intimate
set of his best loved works and a few tracks off his upcoming “Listening
Booth” album. The Midland Theatre is a central Ohio gem, and if you haven’t
had the opportunity to visit this venue do so as soon as possible. Beautifully
restored to its Art Deco grandeur; it is the perfect size for an acoustic concert
or stage production. (http://www.midlandtheatre.org/)
Opening the evening was Kristina Train. This newcomer just released her first album in October, but she is no stranger to the art. She mentioned she had toured with Marc a couple of years ago, but she still seemed awkward on stage, her banter between songs stiff and her stage presence lacking. However, she looks like a young Jennifer Connelly and has a deep, sultry, throaty, spiritual voice well trained and capable of high notes reminiscent of Norah Jones and Vonda Shepard. She performed a full 9 song set from her album Spilt Milk. The title track is haunting and evocative of simpler times; as was her entire set. The highlight was I Can’t But Help, a lyrical song with a poignant melody. Expect to hear her on soundtracks soon: her voice is simply beautiful.
After an extended intermission where Ms. Train signed albums in the rear of the auditorium Marc Cohn took the stage to a very warm welcome. While there was a smattering of youth in the audience the most common descriptor could be retired white professional. Mr. Cohn greeted the audience, saying it was good to be back in Ohio again. He started with the song “One Safe Place” and continued with “Ghost Train.” He set the tone for the evening joking and sharing with the audience; telling us about growing up in Ohio; how “Ghost Train” was written about his mother, the next song he sang “Silver Thunderbird,” was about his dad. Later he sang and described “Perfect Love” - how his brother met his future wife in Cleveland and how their love took them from Shaker Heights to the world’s fair to a country lane in Connecticut. Before singing “The Calling” he introduced his “band” Shane Fontaine. This guitarist is phenomenal and showed his mettle on a perfect guitar solo. After, Cohn commented “I’ve heard him play that solo a lot of times and even I was a little excited…that was pretty good.”
Cohn spoke about modern music performance and recorded tracks, joked with the audience about using a pre-recorded drum line on one song. He threatened to dance like Ashley Simpson on Saturday Night Live if he didn’t count out the bars correctly and held up fingers to make sure he didn’t have to follow through with his threat. He called his “unplugged, organic, authentic thing” passé and said if he were called out for an encore he would hang above the audience spinning cirque du soliel style like Pink. (Although he did say her Grammy performance was tremendous.) He said he left his wife at home with two sick little boys so “enjoy the night knowing the pain and discomfort you’ve caused my family; Happy Valentine’s Day!”
Show highlights were “Listening to Levon” with guest vocals by Train and the audience requested “Olana”. The back-story of artist Fredrick Edwin Church, crippled by disease, who built his home Olana; literally “house of treasures,” is moving when you know Marc’s personal struggles and health issues. Of course, everyone was waiting for “Walking in Memphis” and Marc did not disappoint. He spun a tale of how a struggling songwriter listened to James Taylor tell how he traveled to write and proceeded to buy plane tickets to parts unknown. His first, and as it turned out only, stop was Memphis – the land of silt and blues and voodoo. Cohn told how he stumbled into the Hollywood Café and onto Muriel Davis, a 65 year old gospel maven who was his muse and taught him “everything a Jewish boy from Cleveland” didn’t know. Marc described how he went home and developed his album, for the first time music he liked; music that was “authentic and real” and he went back and played it for Muriel. She said “that one where you mention me is the best one” and he said “maybe she was right” although she didn’t live to hear it on the radio. When the keyboard started to plink out that mournful tune the audience was all his and when he broke it down into a live version that was bluesy and messy and wonderful they loved him. He closed the show with a couple of covers from his new album. Cohn offered to sign albums for fans after.
The audience was not sated and Marc, Shane and Kristina returned for an acoustic and interesting cover of “Wild One.” The encore finished with a raw, exquisite, naked version o f “True Companion”, apropos for the holiday. The show was exactly as Cohn promised; a lovely intimate evening.
Check out the Cover interview with Marc HERE
Review by Linsey Griffith
Photos by David Heasley