Shemekia Copeland’s son won an award at school today, one of those you get for “integrity and behavior.” “I’m kicking ass as a mom, y’all,” she shared in the middle of her Free at Noon set, where Copeland and her band were busy kicking ass in a totally different way. They energized the afternoon with a rock-and-rolling brand of blues which didn’t take itself too seriously.
The daughter of well-known blues singer Johnny Copeland, Shemekia has been releasing records since the late ‘90s, and her vocal technique and stage presence were those of a seasoned entertainer. There wasn’t a wrong note the whole show, but the best moments happened when Copeland frayed her voice to add some grit on “Pink Turns to Red,” or wreaked havoc with her vibrato on the chorus of “Clotilda’s on Fire.” She was joined by a group of old pros who made all of the classic facial contortions to signal they were really getting into the music.
The band’s guitarist, Arthur Neilson, kept things interesting with fiery guitar solos and improvised riffs that popped out during some of the slow-burner. One of those was “Nobody But You,” which Copeland’s father penned for her mother, who passed away the same day as the release of her most recent album, Done Come Too Far. Compared with her previous work, the songs from that album flirted more playfully with other influences. “Fell In Love With A Honky” was a rollicking, crowd-pleasing country shuffle, and “Too Far To Be Gone” kicked things off with a bang and a Led Zeppelin-lite guitar riff.
Copeland and her boys played the audience like another instrument: commands to put your hands in the air, call and responses, and vocal runs galore. By halfway through, Copeland had gone completely off-script and was calling out songs to the band (“Nobody puts baby in a corner,” she joked), so Neilson got to make a show of tearing up the planned setlist. When she shouted “You ready to rock and roll?!” over the cacophonous breakdown that kicked off closing number “It’s 2 A.M.,” and the crowd’s response said it all.
“Doing these songs don’t make you popular, but it makes me feel so good,” Copeland said. And it’s safe to say she made everyone else feel pretty damn good too.Listen back to the show below. Copeland plays City Winery in Center City tonight; more information can be found at WXPN’s Concerts and Events page.