Review: Toshi Reagon & BIGLovely Keep the Birthday Love Going

Toshi Reagon live (1)-1

Amidst all this cold winter drudgery there are still people out there thinking, singing and caring. And Toshi Reagon is one of them.  The night I saw her perform (last Wednesday) as part of her week long 30th Annual Birthday Concert series at Joes’ Pub, she had donated the proceeds of the night’s concert to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.  She didn’t stop there; the show included passionate banter about prison reform, slavery, sexism, and “tangible righteousness.”  In between, were amazing sets of music from soft, reflective ballads that touched on personal stories of love, to raucous rock’n’roll songs about empowerment, all of which showed off her impressive vocal range.

I loved hearing Reagon talk about her passion for “places that do good work.” It felt at times like we were sitting around her living room with her musician friends, just shooting the breeze and then breaking out into collective song. The intimate Joe’s Pub helps with this feeling but I think it was the overwhelming joy that Reagon brings to her performance — the ease and command of her music and lyrics. “I am happy and I’m satisfied,” a line from one of her songs pretty much sums up her persona.

I’ve been to Joe’s Pub countless times but I don’t recall ever seeing the audience get up out of their chairs to dance. “Amazon Woman Rise,” the nearly forty-year-old anthem written by Maxine Feldman, was the song that did the trick. Sung in perfect deep throated reggae style by the incomparable Judith Casselberry, there was no way we were gonna stay seated.

Reagon started out the evening with a big “Oh yeah!” and so did I, when I saw the stage fill up with her “All Women All the Time” BIGLovely band. Every girl who plays an instrument should run and see them play. Yes, I say every girl.  It is a rare occurrence to see an all female band where each member is a musical star in her own right. The musicianship was stellar. The camaraderie joyous. In addition to Casselberry, BIGLovely featured drummer Allison Miller, bassist Ganessa James, keyboardist Elenna Canlas, guitarist Alex Nolan and singers Marcelle Davies Lashley and Catherine Russell.

I know this sounds like a cliché, but run don’t walk next time Toshi Reagon is playing at Joe’s Pub. In fact, mark your calendar for her 31st Annual Birthday Concert series, which I am sure is already in the works for January 2015. You don’t want to miss it.