review: rumer at rockwood music hall

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Rumer at Rockwood Music Hall

Rockwood Music Hall, 196 Allen Street (between Houston and Stanton)
venue web site

artist web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
October 28, 2011

I have no idea how the routine works when I arrive for my first visit to the Rockwood Music Hall south of Houston, as First Avenue becomes Allen Street and we’re not in Kansas anymore.  Programming includes multiple performers a night in hour-long sets with a line, a bouncer, and hand stamping involved.  It’s a hard-listening, music-loving crowd.  Friendly bar staff, low warm lighting, a minimum of seating (along the bar, a few tables just in front of the small stage area, a few high stools along the wall, a single row of balcony seating), and standing room.  Perhaps 150-200 people can attend a performance any given night and this night I arrive early, settle into my bar seat, and chat with regulars who give me the low down on the venue vibe.  I wait for Rumer through a pleasant group from Washington DC.  I appreciate some of their youthful yearn-y tunes, including one in particular with lyrics “Somewhere over the rainbow / we’re going to get things right”.

Between sets I retain control of my bar stool and check the crowd.  I note some reserved signs for Atlantic Records at a table right up front, and I enjoy Rumer’s distinctive gentle throbbing recorded voice as the new house music.  We wait and I muse about my route here this evening, through a colleague documentarian working on a film about the time and people who witnessed Judy Garland’s historic concert at Carnegie Hall in April 1961, who filmed a music video for this special artist in Fall 2010 (see below).  I met Rumer when she attended a screening and conversation about the project in July 2011.  I was totally charmed by her as a person and was at that time clueless about her career and talents and .. all  of it.  She was just genuine.  She is just genuine.  And through her generosity and the collaboration of Steven Lippman the documentarian and Rumer’s photographer Walter Briski, I am “on the list” for this event.

The energy has shifted subtly from gentle respect to energized anticipation.  The room, in effect, is buzzing. Once she enters and takes the stage I am in another dimension feeling and hearing the woman before us and other women suggested from other times — Dusty Springfield, Karen Carpenter, Judy Garland in her quietest ballad-y moments (think “A Cottage For Sale” or “You’re Nearer”).  Rumer articulates her own set of influences on her website’s biography, and in her songs.  Garland is mentioned as part of a Technicolor movie musical place of enchantment as a child.  Aretha Franklin was part of her childhood, a muse and a comfort through her headphones, a reference in patter introducing her tune “Aretha” — “We went to see Aretha at Jones Beach” she notes, and “she took us all to church.”  A tune titled “On My Way Home” hits me right in the heart — I lost my mother when I was 18 and Rumer writes of losing her mother to breast cancer.  The lyrics that bring tears to my eyes even now (and the full lyrics on her web site):

  • “Now I hear you say / It’s time to walk away / But how can I / When I don’t know my way home from here?”

I find that my mind wanders, my heart responds, and my body moves to the rhythms of her deeply ululating pitch and rhythm and feeling.  I feel as though I have found this special artist on the cusp of something beautiful.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 29, 2011)

Rumer - "Am I Forgiven?" - a music short film by Steve Lippman/FLIP

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