By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
The Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concert series has become a hot summer destination for Angelenos looking for evening entertainment on Thursday nights. The show on August 3, 2017, brought together two excellent performers, Irma Thomas and Valerie June, who may be separated by many years in age, but share a musical sensibility.
On June 22, this year’s concert series got off to a rocky start, as an unusually large crowd flocked to the sand on the south side of the pier and onto the stage area for the Khalid show. Awful traffic, poor crowd control and agitated attendees created a bad vibe for the series. Many potential future concertgoers were hesitant to come back for the rest of the season after that massive clusterf**k experience.
Things were drastically better on this August night. While the hot summer sun was falling toward the horizon, a modest crowd gathered on the sand with picnic baskets, chairs and blankets. On the pier, the police almost outnumbered the tourists and guests waiting for the concert. With such a sparse crowd, it was easy to enjoy some of the family friendly activities and vendors lining the area of the pier set up for the concert.
Irma Thomas, the “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” opened the show. Thomas won her first Grammy for Contemporary Blues Album in 2007, but her storied career spans over 50 years. Thomas’ soulful voice and pleasant stage presence mesmerized the audience. Her fine band, complete with a strong horn section, expertly ran through several of her most memorable songs while Thomas referred to her set list and lyric sheets. With her extensive catalog of music, she can be forgiven for needing the reminders, particularly since her voice has retained its brilliance after so many years.
Valerie June closed the show later in the evening as a larger crowd gathered, both on the pier and the sand. Her musical style represented an interesting evolution of the classic soul that Thomas had brought to the stage. June blends country, folk, soul and R&B with modern rock beats. Her voice is golden and she is a multi-talented instrumentalist, excelling on the guitar and banjo.
June hails from Memphis, Tennessee, but lives in Brooklyn, New York. She draws inspiration from diverse musical styles and used her banjo in songs that are not only folk or bluegrass, but a boundary crossing mélange of the two genres. Her band offered excellent support and flowed effortlessly with her vibe. June’s hypnotic voice brought the music together brilliantly. While the occasional guitar solo and piano melody were enjoyable, it was June’s amazing vocals that kept the audience’s attention.
Since the logistical issues seem to have been resolved, the Santa Monica Twilight Concert series is an excellent Thursday evening destination. There are two more concerts scheduled for this year’s Twilight series. Latin music with Mon Laferte and Buscabulla on August 10, then Indy Rock/Alt with Warpaint and Wild Belle close the series on August 17. The shows are free and more information is available at Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concert series.