April 2, 2017
Saturday night, vocalist Storm Large fused old and new love songs with the second of two nights of concerts with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Titled the “Great American Songbook” concert, as part of the Charlotte Symphony Pops Series, the setlist ranged from “The Lady is a Tramp” to Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” In addition, Large performed original songs from her 2014 album Le Bonheur, the band of the same name joining the orchestra on stage, as well as her 2009 album and one-woman show Crazy Enough.
Large took national stage in 2006 as a finalist on the TV music competition Rock Star: Supernova. After leaving the show she released the 7-track EP Ladylike: Side One, created Crazy Enough (which became a published memoir three years later), and began touring with classic pop fusion band Pink Martini in 2011. Six years later, Large performed in Charlotte with a fusion of standard and subverted pop music sensibility, always infused with 110 percent presence.
Saturday night, Large talked about how, performing rock and punk-skewed music growing up, she was told to move away from those “groin, armpit, underpants” songs towards something more like Cole Porter. But of course, she noted, Cole Porter’s lyrics have “darkness,” too, not unlike punk songs “written in eyeliner” in old notebooks. She gave “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” as an example, performing it in the arrangement from Le Bonheur with the full orchestra.
The symphony would sometimes lower their bows for songs featuring only Le Bonheur, or the band members would wait while the 62-piece orchestra played on, conducted by an enthused and engaged Albert-George Schram. But it would be blasphemous to expect anyone to focus on a performer other than Large: standing barefoot on the stage in two different glittering evening gowns over the course of the night, she was dynamic in presence even when she was standing still. She encompassed both seriousness and sly humor. In between songs Storm told stories – once she wore a Cookie Monster shirt to be blessed by the Pope – but there were also stories about loss, our relationships with each other as humans, and love.
That was the theme of the night: love scorned (a devious performance of “Hopelessly Devoted to You” as though “the movie Carrie had happened” instead of Grease), love lost (“Ne Me Quitte Pas”), and love in all things (Large’s “Angels in Gas Stations”). There was darkness, and humor, but always truth. When Large said “Music is what saves us all in the end,” towards the end of the night, the applauding crowd was quick to agree. And when the last “official” song of the night, “Somebody to Love,” started, the audience stood on their feet and sang along. Large stepped onto the edge of the stage to direct the audience in call and response.
After a standing ovation, an encore of Large’s song from the point of view of love, “Stand Up For Me,” shimmered through Knight Theater. But the audience didn’t stop clapping after she left, or returned for second bows. The third time Large came out she apologized that they weren’t allowed to play more, but reversed at the last second for one last song. After some discussion with Le Bonheur, it was decided: they would perform “N.I.B.,” a Latin-infused Black Sabbath cover. Large apologized that it was “completely inappropriate” for a venue like the Knight Theater, but it felt right. It was raw, powerful, danceable. It was love.
And music is what saves us in the end, after all.
More about Storm Large.