Johnette Napolitano on her solo acoustic shows: "It's given me a new lease on everything, really"
After reading a book about prostitutes in the Old West and how they basically ran things in places like Colorado, Johnette Napolitano (due at the Soiled Dove Underground this Wednesday, November 27) began working on a project a few years ago with a friend from England. That particular collaboration resulted in a gallery show, but the Concrete Blonde frontwoman also wrote a song about it, and one of the characters in it was called the Soiled Dove.
It's fitting, then, that she's playing a one-off acoustic show at Denver's Soiled Dove, also named for those pioneering ladies of the night. Napolitano says she'll be in town a few days early to do research for her ongoing project, which she's putting back on the front burner in 2014; she also plans to hit a few of Denver's haunted spots, like the Brown Palace. "Wherever it's haunted," she says, "that's where you'll find me."
Napolitano's solo gigs have started to grow in the past year or two. "At this time in my life, I want to incorporate a lot of things," she says. For example, "I've always wanted projections on a stage. We didn't really get around to doing that until last December." During her concerts, she also reads from Rough Mix, a book she released in 2010 that includes lyrics and accompanying stories, as well as short vignettes.
"It was conceived as a series that I could do based on lyrics, and tales that spin off the lyrics, whether it explains how they were written, because people ask me that all the time," she explains. "It's long enough down the road that I can tell some of these stories, and people like them. So it's conceived as a series; that way, people can collect them all. I have a small but devoted audience of people who will buy the books once a year, and I'll have something prodding my lazy ass to write one once a year."
She says she's starting to really enjoy reading from the book on stage, as it gives her a "respira," as its known in flamenco. "When you've just slammed down two minutes of hard-ass footwork," says Napolitano, a flamenco singer and dancer, "you go back and clap for a little bit, because you're basically catching your breath on stage. If I just crank out four or five songs, it's really nice to kick back and read a little bit from the book, and people seem to really like it. The stories are good. There are some ghost stories in there. If you like the songs, you'll like the book."
Napolitano says the way the shows are going, they're starting to feel solid, like things have jelled. "It's given me a new lease on everything, really," she says. "It hasn't been easy in the last couple of years. It's really encouraging to see that it means something to people. Twenty-year-old kids are coming out for the first time. I'd rather them see me now for the first time than twenty years ago. I'm a better musician; I've got it more together. The songs stand on their own. Everything's in a better place. The energy is just much better -- it's a better show."