As the lights went down, the powerful Powwow singers and drums on tape echoed in the hall.
The musicians rushed on stage, swiftly followed by Buffy Sainte Marie who received a warm welcome from a fairly large audience who seem to be made up of long time fans. As petite and elegant as ever, dressed in black, high heels, jeans, turquoise rings on her fingers, longish hair complemented by feather earrings and bone breast plate, she cut a fine figure for her 68 years of age. She looks 20 years younger! She quickly picked up her Godin guitar and the magic began with “Piney Wood Hills”: A touch of country and an evocative voice full of passion, which was always more emotive than technical. Next she introduced her band made up of three young Native American men. They launched into “Cho Cho Fire” from her new album, “Running For The Drum” an excellent blend of heavy metal guitars, Native American Powwow drums, clearly showing Buffy’s Cree roots, urgently calling us to build up a new world.
As ever, with energy, colour and verve, Buffy demonstrated what a great singer she is but also introduced us through her talking in between songs to her many varied roles at times pacifist, or teacher, social activist, and philanthropist. She also reminded us of how her album “Coincidence (and Likely Stories)” recorded in 1990 at home in Hawaii on her computer was transmitted via modem through the early Internet to producer Chris Birkett in London. She played her most virulent anti-establishment songs from that album: “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and “Priests of the Golden Bull”. The best moments were when the Native American elements of her song writing were at the forefront like in “Relocation Blues”, “Cripple Creek” on which she used a homemade mouth bow and “Starwalker”. I enjoyed the concert overall but there was too much of an inconsistency between the acoustic songs and the raunchier numbers. The backing band was quite mundane, lacking imagination and their sound didn’t gel as well as on the recorded material I had previously heard. A couple of backing singers as she featured on her last tour would have been most welcome as well as a more balanced sound between instruments. The audience clearly enjoyed it and at the end of the evening patiently waited in a queue to get Buffy to sign CDs and even worn out vinyl versions of her 60’s albums.
I expect the next performances of this UK tour will be tighter but, all in all Buffy Sainte Marie showed herself to be the legend she really is, magnificent as ever. A lesson in how to stay young and fit! Keep singing!