Meah Pace Brings Her Blue-Flame Retro Soul Stylings to a Rare Park Slope Gig
The stage at Long Island City Bar turned out to be too small for Meah Pace the last time she played there, over Martin Luther King weekend last month. The charismatic, personable retro soul singer pounced, and shimmied, and twisted in front of her simmering six-piece band, but ultimately it was like watching a lioness in a cage. She really needs a big stage to do her thing. Until then, you can catch her in similarly intimate blue-flame mode on March 23 at 8 PM at Salzy Bar, 506 5th Ave at 13th St. in Park Slope. Take the F – or the G – to 7th Ave.
Pace’s voice is raw but refined; to compare her to Sharon Jones would not be an overstatement. The nuance and wiggles in her blue notes are in the moment rather than studied, and her band pays close attention to where she takes the crowd. That cold evening in Queens, guitarist Alec Berlin warmed up the room with a wryly haphazard intro from Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner. Then keyboardist Randy Ingram hit his echoey Fender Rhodes patch and the band launched into a slinky version of Gimme Shelter. It was as if Jagger had invited a young Tina Turner up to sing it, the two-sax line of tenorist Jeremy Udden and baritone goddess Paula Henderson punching in hard.
Pace took the sound back in time another half-decade to the mid-60s with the bouncy, swaying vintage soul ballad after that, Berlin giving it a funky pulse in tandem with bassist Jeremy Willms and drummer Greg Joseph. Then Pace’s voice got gritty as they went deep into Promised Land, the opening track on her album 11:03, part vintage 60s JBs funk, part latin soul.
Ingram’s electric piano flickered over a slow 6/8 groove as Pace brought the lights down with the gorgeously bittersweet 70s Stylistics soul jazz-tinged ballad Gracefully. Then they lit into the vampingly hypnotic clave soul groove of On My Brain and kept the nocturnal vibe going with I Wish It Would Rain, punctuated by Berln’s wall-bending acid-rock solo.
The night’s funkiest, hardest-hitting number was I Don’t Need Ya, the horns nailing a sassy go-go riff, Pace picking it up at the end with a defiant, passionate rasp. Then they brought out all the doom and despair in an absolutely spot-on reinvention of the old mid-70s Alice Cooper ballad Only Women Bleed.
Willms’ Stax/Volt riff and Berlin’s Tex-Mex phrasing anchored their Big Mama Thornton-inspired version of Hound Dog, Pace cajoling Joseph into playing a shuffle beat on the snare with just his hands; Henderson’s shivery hailstorm of a solo brought the intensity to redline. They closed the night with a motoring, expansive take of the album’s title track, Nutbush City Limits style. While Pace can sing classic covers all night long if she feels like it, and has done that for the sake of a payday, it’s always more fun to hear her originals. That’s what she’s probably going to do at the Brooklyn gig.