When a singer-songwriter by the name of Valerie June first garnered attention with the 2010 release of an EP called Valerie June and The Tennessee Express, those lucky enough to hear it were blown away by this completely unique talent. Her captivating vocals and rootsy blend of folk, blues, country and soul truly shined when she released her full-length Pushin’ Against a Stone in 2013. Now it’s 2017 and June has seemingly caught on with everyone, as was evidenced by the sold out crowd at Portland’s Aladdin Theater on Saturday, June 3rd.
While June has spent much of her career touring solo and she can definitely blow minds when it’s just her and her guitar, with her talented band she becomes an entirely new artist. With the instrumental heavy lifting in the hands of her band, she transformed from a singer-songwriter into a powerful, charismatic front woman shimmering in bright clothing. For her set in Portland, June mostly jumped between her Dan Auerbach-produced LP Pushin’ Against a Stone and her latest effort The Order of Time. Whereas Stone was more rooted in Memphis soul and rock and roll, The Order of Time steers closer to a folk and country-soul vein. Together, the songs contrasted nicely. With banjo in hand, June and her band jumped into the bluesy “Man Done Wrong” before sliding into the thick retro soul groove of “The Hour” and keeping a similar mood with the slow burning R&B tune “Love You Once Made”. Things would soon kick up with the funky organ and heavy stomp of “Shakedown”, a song that easily got the crowd dancing up close to the stage.
Part of June’s appeal is her ability to balance lively boogie with tenderer, quiet moments. Her band left the stage so she could perform a heartfelt “Twined & Twisted” and the catchy hummed “Rain Dance”, which went over well in rainy Portland. Many in the audience were enraptured and quiet, while others reacted by screaming like teenyboppers at a Justin Bieber show. Such a reaction was better suited to the rousing a rocker “You Can’t Be Told”, a song that clearly shows the producing touch of Dan Auerbach.
By the time June and her band left the stage, the audience was rabid for more music. Luckily they were appeased by a lengthy encore that included fan favorite “Somebody to Love”, which saw the only appearance of June’s famed banjo-uke. Though the beginning of the song felt rushed, it proved to be a proper vehicle for an audience sing-a-long. The cosmic happiness of “Astral Plane” followed, a proper way to lead into the rousing anthem “I Got Soul”, which closed out the night in joyous fashion and reminded everyone that June and her band live what they preach.
June’s stage banter and interaction with her audience was undeniably charming, oozing with innocent Southern charm as she described nicknames for her wardrobe and living life with positivity. It’s hard to say if this is just a stage act, as it seemed almost too cutesy to be genuine, but regardless, it’s safe to say everyone appreciated such a beacon of light in these dark times. No matter what June does or says, at the center of it all is her voice. At once mournful and hopeful, her voice is in a league of its own and capable of inducing chills. Between the elated crowd reaction to every song and the sold out show, Saturday’s performance made it clear Valerie June is only going up from here.