April 26, 2005

Carmen Consoli delivers enough passion for two countries

Looking around at the line in front of the HotHouse, my friend and I are the only ones without noticeable smile lines or a speckling of grey in our hair. The people in front of us snicker when asked by the bouncer for their IDs. (They probably have kids his age.) After I walk into the venue, however, all my initial fears were assuaged. The giant room is painted bright red with cultured-looking people walking about talking in a variety of different languages, predominantly Italian. The lighting is dim and the stage is surrounded with many small tables. This place is very hip. Despite being 21, my inner 12-year-old is elated that they even let me in. When our host of the night, a U of C alum who spent a year in Italy, offers me a very European vino, I have to decline, because unfortunately, I'm allergic to wine. I drink an apple martini instead. It's strong and I'm glad.

When the show starts, a husky-voiced Carmen Consoli comes out by herself, singing and playing the guitar. Her voice is big for such a small person. She is wearing a big black tank top and a prominent pink bra, and it works for her. Since I am to the side of her I can't get a good view of her face, but her layered dark hair swings wildly. She plays the guitar with her whole body, strumming the strings with such force that I am just waiting for her to break one, but of course she doesn't. Despite having taken five quarters of Italian, the lyrics are hard for me to understand, but even though I can only recognize words such as "brother," "love," and "conquer me," I am mesmerized by the emotions she conveys. My friend, who doesn't speak any Italian, said it best: "I don't want to go to the bathroom. I really have to pee, but I don't want to miss it."

Carmen's talking voice is much smaller than her singing voice, but she is pleasant and speaks English very well. When her band joins her after a few solo pieces, I am awed by their combined sound. In addition to a drummer and a bass guitarist, there is also a gifted violin player and a man who seems to play a different string instrument for each song. Unlike other bands, these musicians are of a wider range of ages, with each person obviously picked for their talent. That husky passionate voice and its background of strings resemble a rock band mashed together with an orchestra, a sound that many bands try unsuccessfully to achieve.

Although Carmen Consoli is from Sicily, and her first concert in the States was in Manhattan last year, she commanded a noticeable fan base at the venue. Before the show, one man showed his videotapes of Carmen singing while he mouthed every single word. It is rumored that his table not only brought the large sign saying, "La voce della Sicilia!" but also traveled a long way to get here.

The amazing thing about Carmen Consoli is that after every single song she seems equally grateful for applause. At every moment, she is appreciative for being allowed to play for us. It is refreshing to have a person that only charged $12 for her tickets to play as whole-heartedly as she did. Her stage banter is often comical: "This song is about a bride that was left at the altar on her wedding day¬óno, it's not me!" But all the comedy vanishes when she begins to play, maneuvering her body across the stage. Consoli ends with a two-song encore, leaving the audience exhausted and invigorated by a fresh breeze from Italia.