I first learned about Fisher from the documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom, which spotlighted legendary backup singers for bands such as The Rolling Stones. Most people never know the names, but they recognize the voices. (For example, Merry Clayton sang the haunting refrain in the original recording of “Gimme Shelter”; Lisa Fisher went on to perform it live with the Stones.) Last night, she performed staples from her repertoire. These included “Message in a Bottle” by the Police, “Rock and Roll” and “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin, and “Wild Horses” and “Gimme Shelter” by the Stones. The transformed arrangements, however, make you hear these songs in a new light. She also performed “How Can I Ease the Pain,” which won her a Grammy in 1992 for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
Powerful female vocalists abound in popular music—most of them belters. Fisher can certainly match the strength of any of them, but her magic lies in amazing vocal control. You never feel assaulted by her voice. What comes through is the power without the shrillness. Whisperings of the tenderest pianissimo tug at your emotions along with gut-wrenching howls. She also exudes love for the audience, one of the warmest performers you will ever encounter. She gave a shout-out to the daughter of a father who had texted her before the performance. And she indulged another audience member with unscheduled, spontaneous a cappella excerpts from past albums.
I’ll be honest. While last night’s performance was a powerhouse in its own right, it gained added weight from things that were on everybody’s minds—or at least on my mind. I mean the United States on the cusp of democracy dying. I couldn’t help but hear in Fisher’s wailing the lament for something about to be lost. In a world that has been turned upside down, where fake content, fake news, and fake people flood our field of vision, Lisa Fisher exemplifies something solid, real, and dependable. I love her for giving me that.