Valerie June Beams Positivity and Musical Richness in Portland, OR (SHOW REVIEW)

Valerie June was glowing as she took the stage before a sold-out audience in Portland, Oregon. Her stop at the Aladdin Theater on Saturday, April 2nd was the first of two performances and would find this Tennessee songstress beaming love and light to her fans. It also happened to fall on the eve of the Grammys, where June was nominated for Best American Roots Song for “Call Me a Fool” off her 2021 album The Moon And Stars (REVIEW), which she is on tour promoting now. The nomination (she did not win, unfortunately) and sold out shows mark just how far June has come since her days playing bluesy solo material in bars around Memphis.

Onstage in Portland, June wore a dress that was glowing in the black light with the stage decorated to resemble a magical garden with flowers and stars. Opening the set with the reading of a poem from her 2021 book Maps for the Modern World, June would tap into the subject of being a dreamer and would return to this topic throughout the evening. As one might expect, the set would lean heavily on material from the new album, with “Stay” and “You And I” coming in early and the latter leaning heavily into twangy pedal steel guitar and a slick drum build. “Call Me A Fool” was prefaced with a speech about being a dreamer and pursuing seemingly impossible goals before letting the charming organ guide the music. Even while her flower headpiece was falling apart, June belted the soulful vocals with cheerful abandon to make for a moment that was downright moving. “Smile” carried more of an indie rock sound before segueing into the shuffling country of older tune “Raindance” and then taking it into a gospel hymn, and set highlight “Two Roads” was sultry, warming, and deeply soulful.

June took on many roles throughout the performance, shifting from poet to storyteller to rocker to blueswoman and country troubadour, even stepping away from the mike at times to dance across the stage. Linking it all was her distinctive voice and her endless charm. The crowd would swoon when she covered “What a Wonderful World” with her mini banjo (aka “the baby”). Though her explanations to the audience at times felt like a Sesame Street episode with silly, almost childlike cuteness, it was impossible not to be moved by the music unfolding onstage. “Shakedown” pulled people from their seats with its jagged Afrobeat meets-North Mississippi Hill Country Blues energy, and the band would close out the set with the momentous “Use Me” that featured a full band jam-out and a deep groove. June and her band would return to the stage to a standing ovation and play a handful of tunes, including favorites from her 2013 breakout LP Pushin’ Against a Stone, “Workin’ Woman Blues” and “Somebody to Love,” among others.

While June’s between-song banter got to be a little much at times, bordering on New Age mysticism and general weirdness by the end, she ultimately gave the crowd an impactful night of music. Both the music and the banter would culminate with a speech during her multi-song encore about being raised in the church before playing an enlightening medley of gospel tunes. Still glowing as she bid her fans goodnight, June signaled that she has reached a higher plane both as a performer and as a philosopher. Playing for nearly two hours, the show – only the second stop on her spring tour – carried a level of energy and happiness that was contagious.

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