Live Last Night: Marcia Ball

Marcia Ball spent Friday evening at the State Theatre sitting with her long legs crossed behind an electric keyboard. Dressed almost entirely in black and with her hair quite short, Ball's ensemble wouldn't be out of place in a nunnery. Well, except for those leopard skin pumps that bottomed out her outfit.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Ball's music, like those shoes, has no place in a convent. The singer, who turns 60 in a few weeks, released her first LP in 1972, back when the blues belting and Cajun rhythms she grew up with in Louisiana were purveyed almost exclusively in smokey clubs and the backrooms of bars.

Those sorts of venues are disappearing, especially around these parts. Smoking isn't permitted anywhere inside the Falls Church theater, and few members of the big crowd, which averaged about Ball's age, took advantage of the outdoor court set aside for such puffery.

But if the rooms have changed, Ball hasn't.

She put the crowd in a Mardi Gras mood with several songs about food (including "Red Beans Cooking," "Crawfishin'" and the title track from her latest CD, "Peace, Love & BBQ") and the overall party lifestyle ("That's Enough of That Stuff" and "Big Shot"), sticking mostly to a barrelhouse backbeat synonymous with New Orleans. Ball's backing quartet kept up with her fast fingers during several juke-jumping shuffles, the slyest being "Let Me Play With Your Poodle."

Ball can tackle a ballad, too. Fans near the stage coupled up and slow-danced as she crooned the Otis Redding-style slow-burner, "Power of Love." She got sappy while covering Bill Withers's Hallmark-sweet '70s single, "I Wish You Well," and paid tribute to folks along the Gulf Coast with "Ride It Out," a soft ode to anybody who stayed put, but shouldn't have, when the hurricane hits.

Ball told the crowd of an upcoming summer tour with an orchestra, and confessed that a highlight of her annual performing calendar is a "blues cruise" on a cruise ship, and both seemed like revelations. Ball hardly seems the type whose boat would be floated by a symphony hall gig or a trip on the high seas. She better pack along those leopard skin pumps.

-- DAVE MCKENNA

By J. Freedom du Lac |  March 1, 2009; 2:41 PM ET Live Last Night
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