Ruby Rose Fox band won over several new fans at Portsmouth Music Hall Loft last Saturday night. Playing to an enthusiastic listening room crowd, Ruby Rose Fox and her backing singers, known as the Gloria Steinhams, and her five piece band had audience members expressing mucho applause before receiving standing ovations after the end of the second set as well as at the end of their encore. This wasn’t her four year old Boston fan base giving her mad love. These were music fans in another city an hour away from Boston who were seeing her for the first time.
Fox and her band left their new Portsmouth fans with a hell of an impression as well as several fine musical moments to remember. Her rich, rangy vocal and her wide knowledge of techniques, all coated in her “there’s something special in there” timbre, came across well in the small listening room. Her backing singers and her players could each be heard in all of their subtle moments as well in their swaggering broad strokes.
Beginning their first set with just Fox, her Casio keyboard, and her three Gloria Steinhams, the combo went into their racial protest song “Jordan River.” Her voice had that mix of rasp, range, and personal charm you have to hear to fully appreciate, and it went over well. Listeners could feel her emotion behind the song. Newer song “Leadbelly” found the Gloria Steinhams coming in on just the right word in each lyric to give this a special individual snap. Fox and her backing singers went into “Military,” a take on an old musical number that showcased Fox using her larger than life vocal presence as her singers brought a three dimensional quality to their chorus.
Eventually, Fox and her Gloria Steinhams were joined by two guitarists, a keyboardist, and a rhythm section. Their live delivery of “Dance Of Frankenstein” found her deeper timbre darting through twists and turns in the bulbous groove supplied by the rhythms boys, a sense of movement that made one feel as though the song were taking them somewhere scary, as it moved through its brilliant paces.
A sweet but simmering build up to “Freedom Fighter” made one feel something imminent and powerful was soon approaching. Fox’s hypnotically rangy voice was applied to creating a sense of ascension, a rising upward of power. Her rhythm section, meanwhile, kept an undeniable sense of motion going on. Not exactly danceable but moveable, something that kept the direction circular but forward, progressing with each spiral. A light touch on the keyboards put another presence in the song, a haunting series of notes, tinkled with eerie tenderness. The Portsmouth audience had to be feeling every tug, every current in this tune. Their enthusiasm could be felt every time their applause and cheering suddenly turned to hushed silence at a new twist in the music.
Fox’s band kept “Bury The Body” appropriately funky while Fox and her Gloria Steinhams brought this song to an old fashioned Memphis-Motown emotive high. Lush vocals and persistent touches from the rhythm section made this one strut. When the singers hit the chorus it felt like a song that could be a hit on the radio not just now but 40 years from now. The power of this particular Fox tune cannot be overstated. Fox’s lead vocal on this one was full with her uniquely rich, low tone.
One of Fox’s biggest local radio hits, “Dirty Dog,” turned Coco Chanel into a 90 year old sex symbol. Catchy as hell, this one rode its nifty, thumpy bass line and pushy backbeat while a keyboard shone with sprightly emissions. There was also a vocal flow to it that makes one want to look up the funky lyrics as its imagery fills the head with scenes of unbridled, tacky success. And boy, did this piece move with an attitude.
Fox and her band went into their biggest local hit so far, their 2014 single “Die Pretty,” a tune that Fox didn’t even try to release before the nominations for the Boston Music Awards were decided and didn’t need to include on her first full length Domestic. Yet, this stand alone tune still forces the band to fly through it with impulsive vocals and flinty, speedy musicianship, reflecting classical precision as well as a truckload of cool. At last Saturday night’s Portsmouth show, the band played it with true animal urgency. One could feel the communal energy in the listening room as Fox belted in a way no other rock and roll mama ever tried.
One of Fox’s most gripping songs, “Rock Bottom,” is a soulful pop examination of one of the weirdest stories in Boston political history, Rosemary Kennedy’s storied lobotomy. A guitar line under Fox’s voice stirred the imagination with its sonorous line while she belted it with passionate yearning. Next, Fox performed her domestic violence themed “Every Time I Tell” with soul baring abandon. Her true rock and roll authority came out in her strident chorus vocal and in some bitter toned guitar flare. Speaking of guitar magic, Tony Savarino’s guitar work on an older Fox hit “Blue Angel” was icy cool amidst this soul-pop tune and its restless groove.
Fox closed out her second set with “Entertainer” which garnered a standing O, with Fox’s rangy chanteuse approach through this slow boil, tension just below the surface number. Called back on stage for one more song, Fox and company encored with their highly emotive “Requiem For Danny Thunder.” Here, Fox’s sweet, choir like pop vocal oozed over a sprawling heft of melodic instruments punctuated by a hefty rhythm section. Beside a layer of soulful organ, she let her voice assert itself in sweet revelations of talent, each line getting prettier and sadder.
Yes. Ruby Rose Fox seduced her first time Portsmouth audience just as she enticed about three thousand Pokemon Go participants who showed up at her Outside The Box concert on Boston Common last summer. Portsmouth will likely have her back in some venue in the not too distant future as Fox continues to win over first time audiences wherever she goes.