(Published May 1, 2001)
Karen Savoca can sing. With only a few inflections of voice, she can croon like an angel or tempt like a devil, share her love with a fluttering pass or drag your heart through the mud with a raspy snarl.
The feisty Savoca spent Saturday night at Wilda Marston Theatre wrapping her melodies around the heads of a nearly sold-out audience with her partner, Pete Heitzman, a gentle giant with a penchant for dry humor and blistering guitar work.
Like a mismatched circus pair, the two took to the stage answering a raucous welcome induced by promoter Mike McCormick. Heitzman, somewhere around 6-foot-6, dwarfed his singing, conga-playing girlfriend by almost 2 feet. Luckily, she had a voice that could put any man in his place.
The duo kicked off their set with a sweetly delivered "Nowhere to Go" -- from Savoca's popular CD "Sunday in Nandua" -- a lazy number that would fit perfectly on a car stereo as two lovers watched the sun go down. Right off the bat, Heitzman's soulful facial expressions and tender tremolo tickled the audience, and his rocking leads and funky rhythms were enough alone to cover the admission price.
It was a real treat when Heitzman abandoned his acoustic guitar on a few songs for a Danelectro, bringing with it old-school funk bass lines that any Motown session player would drool over. Sounding like a sister in a Sunday choir, Savoca responded by singing gritty soul that showcased her range and diversity, including a hauntingly accurate Louie Armstrong impersonation.
Encore included, Savoca and Heitzman blistered through 17 songs for the appreciative crowd. Interspersing slow songs with funk dance numbers, the two kept the audience on its toes, and their witty banter had everyone rolling with laughter.
Highlights of the show included the poppy, stuck-in-your-head "You Just Don't Get It" and a new song Savoca coaxed the crowd into singing along to. She praised her fans, saying their singing was "just the way she was hearing it in her head" and that she liked the harmonies, inciting a few chuckles from disbelievers.
The running joke of the night came courtesy of KNBA's Tina Spears, who had given Savoca a bar of "wash-away-your-sins-soap." It seemed Savoca and Heitzman couldn't get too far into a story without referencing the bar of cleansing matter resting nearby on a stool, and the crowd loved them for it.
Savoca's conga playing gave each song a full, lusty sound -- an amazing feat considering just two musicians were onstage. While some large bands have a hard time keeping an audience's attention, these two couldn't get the audience to stop hooting and hollering for more.
Savoca's vocal acrobatics made a believer out of anyone with ears to hear, and she had the crowd singing along to as many songs as they knew - -- including a whistling solo by inspired audience members. Unfortunately, as far as I could see, she could coax only one audience member to dance, but you could tell by the bobbing heads that if there had been any alcohol flowing in the theater, there would have been some rug-cutting.
This was Savoca and Heitzman's third trip to Alaska in the past year, and they have been setting audiences afire. Fairbanks' cutest musical couple, Robin Dale Ford and Pat Fitzgerald, raved about the Fairbanks show, and judging by the smiling faces coming out of the Marston, it hopefully won't be the last time we see the feisty one and the gentle giant in our neck of the woods.
-- Matt Hopper performs with the Roman Candles and is a former KRUA station manager.
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