Why did so many promising musicians die at the age of 27? The question may never be fully answered, but half a dozen performances at The Belly Up the other night certainly reinforced what we lost too soon.
The evening was presented by Six String Society, an eclectic musical theater production company. In this case, six lead singers rotated on the stage.
The original member of the 27 Club was Robert Johnson, essentially unknown and unrecognized in his day. Decades after his death in 1938, Johnson’s music was covered by Clapton and the Stones. Robin Henkel opened the show and set the scene with a handful of Johnson’s acoustic blues songs.
Anthony Aquarius performed an utterly believable version of Jimi Hendrix, replete with a left-handed Fender guitar, which Aquarius eventually played behind his head and with his teeth. The embroidered jacket and the bandeau around the Afro ensured the look, but thankfully the dexterity of the touch delivered the goods.
Club newest member Amy Winehouse came out with her trademark hive and a few horn players; Whitney Shay analyzed a handful of songs with aplomb.
Jim Morrison (Blake Dean) then came out. The strength of “Break On Through” and “Light My Fire” has flowed through the years almost seamlessly. And it wasn’t the AM single version of “Light My Fire”, there was plenty of room for the band to expand into the middle third.
The second member of the Seattle club took the stage in his plaid shirt and white oval sunglasses; Kurt Cobain (Austin Poel) dove into the grunge songbook that put Nirvana on the map. The booming guitar and equivalent attitude were perfect.
Janis Joplin closed the proceedings with a solid dollop of old kozmic blues. Lauren Leigh spoke about the gutbucket vocal prowess needed to deliver great versions of “Me and Bobbie McGee” and “Piece of My Heart.” Former songwriter Kris Kristofferson graced the Belly Up stage.
Cleverly, their rhythm section remained intact between performers, allowing for quick set changes and little energy drop.
Laura Chavez was an amazing guitarist for most of the evening, her prowess on the fretboard was undeniable. Likewise, Jody Bagley was a staple behind the keyboards for most of the evening. Bagley provided yeoman-like work on “Try a Little Tenderness” (Otis Redding missed joining the club by a few months).
One of the less recognized but crucial members of the 27 Club is Brian Jones. As the founder of the Rolling Stones, he was the main architect of the group. But his unreliability forced his ejection from the band he started. Getting him into an evening like this would be an impossibility.
The evening ended with the entire cast performing “Crossroads.” The song details the myth of Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical prowess. This apparently happened outside of the city referenced in the post Led Zeppelin album released by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant called Walk in Clarksdale.
By thematically linking these six artists via their untimely demise, Six String Society has assembled an excellent ensemble of performers confidently delivering a very enjoyable evening.
(photos by Brad Auerbach)