Madeleine Peyroux played the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

“I’m going to do something evil, this is real gangster” said the cab driver as he whipped the car over the double dividers and across oncoming traffic on Doyle Drive, sliding me into the Palace of Fine Arts parking lot with two minutes to spare. He needn’t have feared: all attention was on the gathering crowd at the door to the Fine Arts Auditorium, where eager ears awaited the appearance of Sunny War and the headliner, Madeleine Peyroux, appearing under the auspices of the venerable San Francisco Jazz Festival on a chilly Friday night.

Inside we heard Sunny War combine affecting vocals with tasty fingerstyle guitar, to go with an endearing stage presence and an approach to her music that manages to be both bluesy and, well, sunny at the same time.  Her vocals carry an echo of Tracy Chapman, but with more range and a sweet tonality in the upper register.  She makes each song her own, especially–speaking of evil–in her slow, soulful cover of Johnny Cash’s iconic “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Madeleine Peyroux did her share of covers during an hour-long set, including a velvety rendition of the Beatles’ “Martha My Dear,” (you can listen below), a tune she includes in her upcoming album Standin’ on the Rooftop.  She also curled her plush voice around the vowels of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go,”supported by John Herrington’s sublime guitar hooks and the insistent rhythms of bassist Barak Mori.

Most of her show, however, was given over to showcasing the songs she composed for the new album, scheduled for a June 7th release.  A haunting ballad, “The Things I’ve Seen Today,” hushed the crowd and drew rapturous applause.  At times picking up her guitar to add depth to her sound, at other times caressing the microphone for a romantic chanteuse chanson or an aching blues, Peyroux delivered a moving, swinging, emotionally engaged set, well worth the standing ovation, she heard when she left the stage. A little bit of evil, a touch of romance, and a whole lot of soul: that’s what smoked the crowd during Madeleine Peyroux and Sunny War at The Palace of Fine Arts.

Madeleine Peyroux – “Don’t Wait to Long”