The underground rock scene used to be something of a “boys only” club, despite the efforts and talents of a great many amazing female musicians. Even as late as the mid-nineties, the all-female Lilith Fair rock festival seemed necessary as a showcase for the women who managed to shred their way through the flannel-swaddled man-zone of grunge. But after attending Sunday night’s Dark Was the Night show at Radio City Music Hall, it seems to me that maybe women are approaching parity at the top of the indie rock scene.
Dark Was the Night is the latest all-star album put out by the Red Hot Organization, which has been raising millions of dollars for AIDS relief organizations for approximately two decades. Sunday’s live show featured a handful of the album’s artists performing mini-sets of 4 songs each, frequently playing or dueting with each other for some memorable moments.
But while the show was put together by two members of the all-male Brooklyn band The National and the biggest star was also a man (the eminence grise of the new wave movement, David Byrne), women arguably had the lion’s share of the spotlight, and for all the right reasons.
Whether it was the women of Dirty Projectors shredding their way through the opening set, My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden dueting with Bon Iver and The National, or Feist’s awesome set, which began with proto-feminist folk song “the Wagoner’s Lad” (which begins “hard is the fortune of all womenkind”) and ended with a snarling electric blues number, the show was definitely equal opportunity in every respect. Until the end, that is, when Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings brought the audience to their feet with her hard-working soul revue, first to dance, and finally for a standing ovation – the only one given for the night. When everyone except Jones came out to celebrate Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday with the obligatory all-star jam version of “This Land Is Your Land,” Jones stopped them halfway through with a raised hand. She said that she loved that version, but then proceeded to turn the sleepy campfire folk anthem into an impassioned statement about who exactly this country belongs to.
And after that performance, it was clear that the night belonged to Jones, just one of the amazing women that rocked Radio City for a good cause.