He wowed them, he delighted them, he had them dancing in the aisles at Kingsbury Hall Thursday night. Bobby McFerrin elevated performance art to a new level with song, dance and drama.
By the time it was all over, the capacity crowd was singing McFerrin's latest composition on their way out. Not a song from his newest album, "Medicine Music," but a composition that was created on the spot for an encore. Long after Voicestra and McFerrin had snaked off the stage with Ririe Woodbury dancers - the four-part chant went on and the audience sat spellbound by the rhythm.The Medicine Music show began without introduction with Voicestra assembled on simple risers and singing "Medicine Man"the African-flavored song that McFerrin couldn't resist scatting on.
"Baby-Baby" is a most upbeat, snappy song that could only have been written by a man who has two little boys who are loved tenderly by mama and bounced on papa's knee.
Not one to claim the limelight exclusively, McFerrin stepped back to allow a quartet of Voicestra members to sing a lilting song in German. Then Rhiannon, a blond with an Aretha-soul, sang a wonderful speech. "What if all the colors disappeared? What if this world was all clear?" By the end of this whimsical improvisation, Rhiannon had everyone laughing and rejoicing in blue sky, clean air and bright colors.
Then imagine Bobby McFerrin as a prissy Englishman requesting to sing "doo-wap" with four street-corner musicians. "It's soul music that I believe you do and I do fancy that." McFerrin of course becomes the hippest of all as the five sing "Yes, You."
Dancers from the Ririe Woodbury Dance Company accompanied several of the songs Voicestra performed. Not until the end of the concert when they were introduced by McFerrin did I learn they hadn't been on the tour all along. They were so in sync! The music simply flowed through their fluid bodies as if McFerrin were playing them as instruments as well.
After a quick black-out, Voicestra reappeared on risers as a church choir with McFerrin conducting. His adaptation of the 23rd Psalm drew a warm audience response as they sang "She leadeth me beside still waters . . . " But unlike the version on McFerrin's album "Medicine Music," this psalm came to a halt with the world intruding in a "tick-a-tick, tick-a-tay" chorus that built up in increasing volume and pitch as Voicestra and McFerrin marched about and suffered anguish and panic before they all slowly reassembled on the right of the stage to complete the psalm. With this very simple device, McFerrin showed how sometimes we forget that the Lord is beside us through our worldly trials if we can only leap off the treadmill and listen to the quiet song being sung for us.
After a brief intermission, Voicestra sang "Sweet in the Mornin' " a gospel rendition of few words but much joy. "Down by the Riverside" was introduced by "The Rev" an old-time preacher who prepared the audience for Linda, who took "Riverside" on a peace tour - "Bring those children home," she sang, "Ain't gonna study war no more!"
A dramatic vignette was done by five Voicestra performers who are as at home with theater as with song. From a humble 3-room home to the sod house of Nordic immigrants, the theme of home and family was touchingly presented with a quiet backdrop of Linda's humming.
McFerrin took his trademark improvisational dip into the audience. He cranked out his "Doo-wah" hits although every person he dropped his microphone in front could only laugh instead of croon with him. He mined the front row for names he could sing. Josh and Justice, Ted and Darlene may never be top-40 hits, but to the folks who bear those names, the McFerrin touch will never be forgotten.
McFerrin could have continued for at least two more hours. He didn't get around to performing "Discipline" or "Ava Maria" as has been done in other cities on this tour. But with McFerrin as a healing physician, this medicine music was truly good for the soul.