Find Our Heaven Here: Alison Moyet

Although I am an avid music fan and collector (analog and digital), there are a few dozen artists – solo or otherwise – whose art has struck a bell in me. It’s beyond “what’s that catchy song on the radio?” Their work resonates deeply, at some deeper level.

One such artist for me is Alison Moyet.

I can remember when I first heard “Don’t Go” on my parents’ old console stereo, the one with the lid that squeaked every time I lifted it, with the speakers that crackled if you changed the volume. I loved the juxtaposition of Moyet’s voice with the steely coolness of Vince Clarke’s beats. I was hooked.

Moyet has changed her sound several times over the years, but in some ways there’s been a throughline of consistency in all of her music, all uniquely hers.

Yes, all of it. If you think she is merely an “Eighties musician,” a label many media outlets rush to give her, then you (and they) haven’t been listening.

I’ve loved almost all of her music, and on the rare occasions I didn’t embrace a project wholeheartedly, it was one where some record company halfwit (or misguided producer) had presented us with a version of Alison which was their doing, not hers.

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been thirty-five years since I first heard Moyet’s voice, but my love of her art and her music is no nostalgic trip through my misty watercolor memories.

A few years ago, in another blog of mine, I listed my favorite albums of 2013 for, you know, all twelve of my readers.

That list will tell readers that Alison’s most recent album at that time, the minutes, was my favorite album for that year. What I said there about Moyet and about that album still applies, so I’ll share it here:

I’ve been a fan of Moyet for 30 years, since she hit the scene with Yazoo. And I’ve loved Moyet in all her faces and voices.

But like several of my favorite artists – including Aimee Mann, Jonatha Brooke and Kirsty MacColl – Moyet has had repeated run-ins with several record labels. Despite her magnificent voice (one that can sing any style) and great batches of songs, it seemed like the only thing several of Moyet’s labels were any good at was getting in her way.

Her 2002 album Hometime was a high-water mark, but while I also loved Moyet’s subsequent albums, it seemed like she was increasingly pigeonholed by the industry, only “allowed” to make a certain kind of record, perpetual sequels of sorts to her 80s jazz cover of the standard “That Ole Devil Called Love.”

Moyet had embraced a wide range of genres – including a stint in a West End production of “Chicago” – but the more diverse her explorations, the more she seemed to be pigeonholed. In 2012 came news that Moyet and her label were parting ways, and it seemed unlikely that any new Moyet music was soon to be forthcoming.

Just over a year later, The Minutes was released. And it is a triumph in every possible way.

This is no rehash [of] a veteran act. At 52, Moyet is in this moment and sounds magnificent in contemporary arrangements that range from electronic to more mainstream rock (“When I Was Your Girl”) and even hinting at dubstep (“Changeling”). There’s so much great songwriting here, especially with tracks like “Remind Yourself,” “Horizon Flame,” and the exquisite “Filigree.”

Moyet seems to be more comfortable in her musical skin here, and it comes through in every song. This work doesn’t read like the preconceived narrative of some record label, or the faux creation of a mask of celebrity. This is the authentic voice and the story of a confident, talented, mature woman, and it is GLORIOUS to hear.

I’d loved so many earlier albums, particularly Hoodoo, Essex and Hometime, but the minutes was, as you may have gathered, a real masterpiece.

An additional benefit of Moyet’s resurgence was that the artist herself became more visible on social media, to those who appreciated her art. Following Moyet on Twitter is an added joy. I’ve enjoyed her Tweets – she’s smart, passionate about the world, has a wicked sense of humor, and suffers no fools.

Yeah, yeah – following someone on Twitter hardly makes you BFFs. But it’s nice to know that the feeling of some small point of connection, that this would be a person I’d want to hang out with? Was not a misguided one.

So with all that in mind, I was ecstatic when I heard earlier this year that Alison Moyet would be coming to the United States. ECSTATIC.

She hadn’t been to the States solo for a proper tour in….well, ever? Not for at least 20 years.

(As she used to say on her Twitter intro re the “when are you coming to play near me?” question: “So selfish. Christ, it’s always about you!”)

And believe me, I understand why.

There are a handful of artists who are doing huge stadium size productions. If you’re, say, Coldplay, you might make bank.

But it’s brutal for most artists to be on the road, and very challenging to make money on a tour. It’s expensive to hit the road. That’s true of any US band touring the US….throw international travel for an artist, a band and equipment in there? The margins are tighter, and scarier.

(Which is why when I whine about never getting to see, say, Tracey Thorn live, I do so in the most loving and quietest voice possible!)

I’d loved her solo work for years, and had never heard her perform solo material. And I knew a fact that she ultimately confirmed in her own tour blog: this was likely her last time touring outside of home base.

I’d seen the Yazoo shows in 2008.

When they opened the show with “Nobody’s Diary,” I had a moment that….well, I was in a theater full of people, and that song came on….and it sounds terribly odd to say, but what registered in my vision for a few minutes was Alison, Vince and myself….and no one else.

I’d heard people describe similar situations, but had never experienced it myself. So clearly, my fandom of Moyet’s work, solo and with Yazoo, was wrapped up in a lot of emotion.

So, news of Moyet. In the States. For a longer tour. She’d done a NY/LA thing a few years back, but this was a tour. AND she was coming to Chicago. My town!

I bought tickets the day they were available. General admission tickets, and I loathe general admission with the very fiber of my being, but I would have stood on a box in a burlap sack to be in the same damn room!

My husband and I arrived on the night of the show in what I thought would be plenty of time to get a good place in queue for the doors. I was quite wrong. The line was around the block. This is unusual for concerts in Chicago, where the crowds generally show up about ten minutes after the shows START.

We went inside. Standing near the stage was out of the question by the time we got inside, but we managed, luckily, to find a seat, a bit in the corner, stage right (along a curtain that I later realized served as a hallway for Alison and the band to get on and off the stage).

The concert began with the spoken word track from “Other,” her newest album, and followed with another “Other” track. I’m really enjoying the new album, too. It’s a bit darker, and in these ears and eyes, I see that as a reflection of our current world affairs, and the fight we all have to keep our lives balanced as we observe, as we fight.

She performs a few more songs, including a Yazoo track. And then….I hear a few notes. What was this? I wasn’t sure. Alison took a breath, and started to sing the first notes of “Wishing You Were Here,” from her album “Hoodoo.”

“I can’t begin / To tell you how it feels”

I started to weep.

And didn’t stop for….well, the rest of that song, and somewhere into the next.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say it, but it’s true. A grown man of nearly fifty, reduced to tears.

Why? I was transported to a time, some past moment I couldn’t articulate or explain, on the echoes of these notes, these lyrics.

It’s probably trite to say, but the closest description I can manage….was that it was my love of the music, my love and appreciation for the artist, and my joy at experiencing all of it….hitting me all at once.

Here we were, in a moment I never thought would happen, celebrating an artist who wasn’t always known to others (especially in the US), experiencing a song I’d known and loved for decades. It makes me tear up to even think of that moment.

(This is from the SF concert, but you get the idea.)

The rest of the concert was equally amazing, old songs and new. She sang a beautiful new song, “The Rarest Birds,” with a fantastic, uplifting LGBT-positive message.

It is perfect – no cloying We Are The World style drippiness, but a beautiful recognition of all of us as we are, where we are.

As I watched the crowd, I realized why so many people had arrived so early at the venue. This wasn’t just a “Chicago crowd,” a local concert. So many attendees had driven from neighboring states. Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and beyond.

So many of us so similar to one another. So many pairings of gay men, arms locked around each other. My husband – all six foot five of him – rested his head on my shoulder for most of the night so as not to block the view of those behind us.

(I joked with my husband that I might be hard to find if we were separated, as looking for a short. fat balding gay aging hipster – me – would hardly narrow the prospects in that room!)

And in the midst of all the surprises and all the beautiful new music, it was revisiting another older song that capped the night in a beautiful way.

“Love Resurrection” was Moyet’s first solo single, and in its original form was a soulful, warm mid-tempo song.

In the new arrangement, it was faster, a bit brighter, less of a question, and more of a loving, earthy call to arms.

“We all need a love resurrection,” Alison sang, one hand around the mike stand, the other raised as if testifying in church.

And it was testimony, a church of sorts, I suppose. It was a room full of us, sharing a kind of gospel,  art that resonated with me, resonated with all of us.

The world appears to be in need of a love resurrection, and we all spent a few moments in deep audio prayer for it. It was a wonderful way for us to end the night, in the presence of a beloved artist.

My reaction to the concert made me realize that the way all of us experience art — whether it’s music, painting, sculpture or theater — is in part about us, ourselves.

Yes, the artist is the biggest and most crucial part of that equation, but it’s also the eyes of our own experiences, and yes, sometimes even nostalgia for a moment or event in our past. We bring a piece of that point of view when we attend a concert, watch a play or visit a museum.

If we’re lucky, all of that comes together, and we can connect with that art, and that experience, in every stage of our lives.

No one wants to live in the past 24/7 – not least the artist who is living and creating in this moment – but I realized that in some ways, we always carry a bit of the road traveled along with us, in all we experience, in all we see or hear.