Karen Savoca at The Market Theatre

Savoca's voice shakes the rafters, performance wows the crowd

By Jane Bow / The Peterborough Examiner/March 11, 2000

Imagine the soul of Janis Joplin without the tragic edge, the sweet clarity of Jewel, lyrics as rich in poetic abstraction as Paul Simon's, and you still don't reach a complete picture of Karen Savoca's performance in the Market Theatre last night.

Never in my career as a reviewer have I seen such an exciting show. Karen Savoca, a small woman with long, brown hair, has a voice that shakes the rafters, that ranges from sweet melody through husky blues to the shrieking of a crone.

She can sound like a lusty, deep throated man, like a reed instrument, like the whistle of a train, like the yearning, searching speechless soul that lives inside each of us.

Playing with her is Pete Heitzman, who is every bit as responsible for the partners' success.

While Savoca uses a conga and a rattle to provide the beat, Heitzman plays guitars and sings harmony. And this man makes the guitar sing! On some of the numbers he used the acoustic guitar, wringing jazz-like riffs out of it, bending nearly double as his tall, rangy body moved with the music. In others, the electric [six string bass] added a deeper, heavier accompaniment.

The music itself is awesome in its originality. You cannot label it. It starts out rhythm and blues and moves into jazz, shifts from soft rock into harsh soul, into sheer fun, then all the way back again.

Before the set was half over, a group of young women were up dancing. Every single number produced whistles, calls, thunderous applause.

The lyrics also ranged all over the verbal map. In some places they were poetry, moving through abstraction from image to image. In others they were straight narrative and in some they were dialogue done in character. In many places it was just big, round sound. Throughout the songs the guitar picked out the tune, turned it in counterpoint, took the music into new places.

This is a kind of music that speaks of freedom, a lack of inhibition not often heard in Canada. One of Savoca's lyrics describes it best "Wild and free, just like I wanna be."

Like most great art, however, it is also tightly-knit, constructed with a perfectionism that is obvious in Heitzman's constant adjustment of his guitar strings, of the skin of Savoca's conga, in his attention to the way the acoustics were reaching the audience. This is something many musicians playing live concerts could learn from.

Many of the songs came from Savoca and Heitzman's latest CD called Here We Go. Pick it up from karensavoca.com. Judging from the prolonged standing ovation, I think last night's audience would agree that it's worth it.

-- Jane Bow

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