After 26 years with Rolling Stones, Lisa Fischer moves to centre stage

IN CONCERT

What: Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton
When: Tuesday, March 27, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.
Tickets: $35.50-$55.50 at the Royal McPherson Box Office, by phone at 250-386-6121 or online at rmts.bc.ca

Lisa Fischer doesn’t have to wail like Robert Plant when she sings Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song in concert, nor does she have to coo like Mick Jagger when handling the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. With a voice that can move mountains, Fischer can simply be herself.

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“It’s so playful to me, and it’s so fun,” Fischer said from her home in New York. “It goes back to the mentality of singers who were interpreters. To me, that’s the most fun. You get to paint, you get to change your clothes and toss on a silly hat. You get to cry. You get to do so much stuff.”

Fischer currently leads her own band, Grand Baton, which interprets an array of hits in concert, from Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love to the Police’s Message in a Bottle. Her set is also full of songs by Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Fischer was a backup singer for the Stones for 26 years.

The Brooklyn native played her last show with the Stones in Quebec on July 15, 2015, and has since focused almost exclusively on Grand Baton.

It was a tough and emotional decision for Fischer. It is clear, nearly three years later, that she still wonders how things would have turned out had she stayed.

“They have been so supportive and loving and kind to me. I miss them. I love them to the ends of the Earth.”

Part of the problem, Fischer said, was that the Rolling Stones required her to be in each city on their tours a day prior to the show. That type of commitment — three days for one show, which is totally understandable, Fischer said, given the size of the operation — didn’t leave much room for her solo career.

During her years with the group, she fitted in Grand Baton tours when she could, including a date in Victoria weeks before she left the Stones, but eventually the pluses stopped outweighing the minuses.

After a quarter-century, she figured it was time to venture out on her own.

“It got to the point where I was running myself ragged, and I felt like I wasn’t giving my best because I was so exhausted.

“It was a scary time for me, so I finally had to make a decision. I cried when I made that phone call.”

Fischer likened her exit to “leaving the nest.” Her departure was made manageable, however, by the overwhelming reaction to 2013’s 20 Feet From Stardom, an Academy Award-winning documentary about backup singers in which Fischer figured prominently.

“I think 20 Feet From Stardom opened the doors for my more complete self, after years of doing different things in different arenas,” Fischer said. The film explores the often unacknowledged role singers played in the careers of A-list acts.

Fischer spent the bulk of her early career with Tina Turner, Luther Vandross and Sting, before securing a permanent role with the Rolling Stones.

In concert with Jagger and Co., Fischer always brought down the house during Gimme Shelter, singing the part made famous by another backup singer, Merry Clayton, who also appears in 20 Feet From Stardom.

Fischer sings Gimme Shelter in concerts with Grand Baton, but delivers the song in a more contemporary, jazzy way.

“I’m learning. Every day I’m learning. Every time I do something new, I think: ‘What if I fail?’ That’s just my normal process of breaking through the moment of getting to somewhere really beautiful.”

Grand Baton, which includes Thierry Arpino, JC Maillard and Aidan Carroll, is inventive as well. “Every time we do a show, there’s certain songs we definitely repeat, but they do it differently,” Fischer said.

“They are always looking for a different little window, a little crack in the ceiling. They are always looking for ways to make me go: ‘Ooh, what was that?’

“And that makes me react differently. We’re always having this musical conversation during the whole show.”

Fischer was in Paris this month for a unique collaboration with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. She joined 12 dancers in a piece called The Propelled Heart, throughout which her voice was the live soundtrack.

“To be the sound for their movements and the emotions for their movements, the energy was bouncing back and forth. Every night I felt like: ‘I can’t believe I get to do this for a living.’ ”

Fischer also spent part of February performing with the Seattle Symphony. Asked if she enjoys dipping her toes into a variety of pools, Fischer let out a bold laugh.

“It echoes that background singer mentality of not knowing what’s coming. I’m trying to bend and mould different situations. To me, that’s a lot of fun.”

Her schedule these days stands in stark contrast to her pre-fame days, when she had more time for the careers of other artists than she had for her own.

Fischer said she is better prepared for the challenges that undoubtedly arise, and would not have wanted to be a headliner any earlier.

“The gift of maturity is a beautiful thing,” she said.

“You bump your head and you learn, and that’s always going to continue.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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