Growl power; Reese reaches; Hold holds 

  • TWEEN ANGELS: Cheetahs.

Cheetah Girls
Alltel Arena
Dec. 2

While they will never be confused with the Fab Four, the Thrilling Three known as the Cheetah Girls hit town Saturday for a short but spirited display of moves and music that left their tween-age fans screaming for more.

The Disney darlings, with two movies and two top-selling albums already to their credit, are fun to watch on stage. The modern-day Mod Squad, minus their most famous member, Raven-Symoné, showed off some flashy yet wholesome dance steps over the course of their one-hour set. Singing along to pre-recorded tracks, the trio and their four male backup dancers put on a choreographed demonstration of what the girls — Adrienne Bailon, Sabrina Bryan and Kiely Williams — called “growl power,” their version of pubescent potency.

The primarily young, female crowd of 15,433 waved their glow sticks and sang along as the Cheetahs, in their inimitable “Cheetah-licious” style, bounced through Radio Disney staples like “Cinderella,” “Together We Can” and “Shake a Tailfeather.” Bryan stood out during a Latin-flavored “Dance With Me,” sharing the spotlight with one of her dancers in a number that’s sure to earn her a spot on an upcoming “Dancing With the Stars.” Despite the fact that their act included three time-consuming costume changes, by the time they wrapped up “Amigas Cheetahs” amid a sea of confetti, the threesome had the crazed crowd eating out of their paws.

Everlife, the opening act, is fronted by three sisters — Amber, Sarah and Julia — whose sound brought to mind a more virtuous Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. It’s no coincidence that they covered “Real Wild Child,” recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis, Iggy Pop and, most recently, Joan Jett. Their guitar-driven, clean-cut approach to rock earned thunderous applause, particularly after an a cappella version of “White Christmas.” Let’s see Joan Jett pull that off.

— Tim Taylor


Della Reese, ‘In the Spirit’
Robinson Center Music Hall
Dec. 1

Legendary vocalist and actress Della Reese touched and inspired more than 1,000 people at Robinson Center last Friday with her sensational voice. Reese performed in the show “In the Spirit,” presented by Philander Smith College and One Special Angel. The evening of song and praise also was in recognition of World AIDS Day and the holiday season.

Reese’s humorous, delightful and pleasant personality dazzled the audience. Throughout her performance she talked openly about her life growing up in Detroit, touring with Mahalia Jackson at age 13, starting the gospel group the Mediation Singers, singing on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and being the first black woman to have a syndicated show, “The Della Reese Show.” Reese also talked about her TV and movie starring roles.

Accompanied by music director T.J. Campbell on piano and her band, Reese acknowledged God for his guidance, wisdom and understanding in the beautiful opener “An Understanding Heart.” With Lawrence Hamilton directing a combined choir (the Philander Smith Collegiate and Alumni choirs, Jackson T. Stephens Episcopal Collegiate School Concert Choir, Horace Mann Middle School Ensemble Singers, and the West Memphis High School Choirs and an orchestra of regional musicians), Reese uplifted the audience with “Do You Really Know Him.”

Campbell blended his soothing and mellow piano playing with Reese’s dynamic voice on “I’ve Been Touched by an Angel,” which he and Reese co-wrote for her TV show. Reese then poured out her heart and soul in “God Is So Wonderful.” She dedicated her last song, “Take Your Burdens to the Lord in Prayer,” sung along with Hamilton and the choirs, to people suffering with HIV/AIDS. “We got to do everything we can to cure this [dreadful] disease,” she said.

Before Reese’s portion of the show, Hamilton performed an immaculate “Mary Had a Baby” with the Mann Middle School Ensemble Singers. Also, the crowd was mesmerized by the Sankofa Theatre’s Afrocentric dance routine on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Mezzo-soprano Kelley Ponder, who has performed opera on stages throughout the U.S., was spectacular on “Puer Natus in Bethlehem” and “O, Come All Ye Faithful.

Jimmy Cheffen and Marcus Montgomery delivered a powerful social, political and conscious-minded poem, dedicated to the late Curtis Tate (a renowned local actor and storyteller), titled “Who is Santa Claus?” Tawanna Campbell and Vernon Harris were superb in the duet “Away in a Manger.” And saxophonist Gary Meggs played an amazing, upbeat and jazzy version of “Joy to the World.”

— Renarda Williams

The Hold Steady
Sticky Fingerz
Dec. 4

Here’s the thing — normally the only type of “indy” that interests me involves a bunch of cars that maybe (maybe!) will get going fast enough to crash. The Indy 500 is certainly a lot louder than that other sort of indy, the musical genre we call “indie rock.” You can tell it’s indie rock if the singer wears a shirt that was too small in the 7th grade, while shouting like he or she has been stuck in the leg with a fork.

Imagine my surprise when the Hold Steady, a band so beloved by the indie community they make Modest Mouse look like N’Sync, formed onstage at Sticky Fingerz and started playing “Stuck Between Stations,” the first track on their new album. Did I need another drink? Did I actually like this music? In a word, yes, because the Hold Steady write songs that owe less to emo and the indie craze-of-the-month than they do to rhythm and blues and Elvis Costello. Bruce Springsteen or Meatloaf (first-album Meatloaf) would consider covering them; the average indie group wouldn’t know where to start.

This is not to say that the Hold Steady are unrecognizable as an indie band, since they have a straightforward occupation with guy/girl angst as subject matter, and, it must be said, lead singer Craig Finn dances like he has the fork problem. But he dances while noiselessly repeating the lyrics he has just sung, scowling and thrilled at once. He leans into the mic with an energy that I, for one, recognize more from rock documentaries than I do from contemporary performances. The band behind him — the “boys,” he said — are professionals, and they take solos! They make eye contact with the audience and not the club’s back wall and draw us into the songs, which have lyrics that we’ve almost heard before, but are intrigued by anyway.

These aren’t songs about broken hearts, they’re songs about horse races and interstates and whatever else Finn is singing about. There were heavy Dylan similarities as well, in the lyrics and in the enunciation. Unlike Dylan, the Hold Steady was quick to show their gratitude and embrace the crowd, emotionally and physically. Mainly physically — we were invited onstage during the last number, and there were many takers. Finn mentioned the opening acts sincerely (it was a pleasure to hear Arkansas natives American Princes, and if you’re looking for the second coming of Joe Cocker, be sure to check out Catfish Haven). If the Hold Steady is what they mean by indie these days, then all right.

— Charles Lyford


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