Lenny Kravitz Offers A Blast From The (Recent) Past At Smart Financial Centre

He wears his sunglasses at night (and all the time, really).
He wears his sunglasses at night (and all the time, really). Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Lenny Kravitz
Smart Financial Centre
September 15, 2019

Judging solely by music charts, it would be easy to assume Lenny Kravitz had dropped out of sight some time ago. The (consecutive) four-time Grammy winner for Best Male Rock Performance hasn't had much presence on radio in over a decade, though I understand his Instagram account is something else.

But Kravitz never really went away. He's been dropping new albums on a regular basis (his 11th — Raise Vibration — came out last year), appearing in movies (Precious and the first two Hunger Games), and writing jingles for, among others, Gap, Kohl's, and the NBA.

The question going into last night, therefore, was whether he was still a viable live act? Or had he fallen off people's radars? Could a guy whose last successful album came out 15 years ago (domestically, he's still énorme in France) still bring in the crowds?

As rhetorical questions qo, those are admittedly pretty academic. Kravitz's fanbase is the kind that'll (mostly) pack a venue like Smart Financial Centre to see him perform, even on a school night. And going by their response, they knew exactly what was coming, for better or worse.

Kravitz opened last night's set with "We Can Get It Together" from the latest album, before throwing some early meat to the crowd with "Fly Away" and his cover of the Guess Who's "American Woman." And it was not coincidentally about this time that the weaknesses in his music became apparent.

But let's back up a bit. Kravitz has a genuine gift for selling an image, and that was on full display last night. Clad in jeans and a denim jacket over a vest (we think, our seats were pretty far back) and sunglasses, he struck many a pose and gyrated in a way that might be considered potentially dangerous for a man of 55, except (A) he's clearly still in great shape, and (B) the crowd ate it up.

Seriously, 55? Between him and Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers I'm just going to crawl under a blanket fort with a box of Häagen-Dazs bars.

click to enlarge Admit it, you're gonna go his way. - PHOTO BY VIOLETA ALVAREZ
Admit it, you're gonna go his way.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
But an early criticism of his work is still valid today, and that's the way his music "borrows" from artists like Jimi Hendrix or Sly and the Family Stone,with lyrics you might come up with after a couple bong rips. Last night, inadvertently or not, showcased a lot of these lyrical shortcomings: "Life is just a lonely highway" ("Can't Get You Off My Mind")? "It ain't over til it's over" (eponymous)? "Wish I could fly/So very high/Just like a dragonfly" ("Fly Away")?

I mean, the lyrics to "Freedom Train" (the seventh song of the night) are just the following lines repeated for almost three minutes:

It's on the freedom train
Come on dance on the freedom train
And if that's your bag, that's fine. Kravitz has an undeniabley magnetic stage presence, and he's canny enough to surround himself with excellent musicians, like guitarist Craig Ross and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey. He also brought out two local kids to replay "Are You Gonna Go My Way" at the end of the show.

He also might be the only person in the world who can pull off the indoor sunglasses thing without looking like a complete asshole.

Kravitz did subject us to some on-brand pronouncements about the power of love and how we all have something to offer (I'm only mildly ashamed to have muttered "I don't" in response). And in the most effective segment of the show, he introduced his "songs about race:" "Mr. Cab Driver," "Bank Robber Man," and "Where Are We Runnin'?" These songs provided some needed urgency, but suffered from the same lyrical and contextual simplicity as the others.

And on an unrelated note, while I don't think I'll ever see anything at a concert as obnoxious as the group of soccer moms snapping a selfie to the Indigo Girls's "Faye Tucker" a few years back, the two white chicks taking one during "Mr. Cab Driver" are a close second.

When all's said and done, you can't really fault Kravitz for his lucrative and wildly successful career. The guy is passionate about, among other things: the power of love, Les Paul guitars, and fashion. Whether or not he's worthy of your musical respect is up to you.

Personal Bias: All would've been forgiven if he'd covered "Just What I Needed." RIP Ric Ocasek.

The Crowd: Ladies love cool Lenny.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I love this Pink Floyd song."

Random Notebook Dump: "Is that jazz flute?"

We Can Get It All Together
Fly Away
Dig In
American Woman (Guess Who cover)
Get Up, Stand Up (Wailers cover)
Fields of Joy
Freedom Train
Who Really Are the Monsters?
Stillness of Heart
It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over
Can't Get You Off My Mind
I Belong to You
Mr. Cab Driver
Bank Robber Man
Where Are We Runnin'?
Are You Gonna Go My Way
Love Revolution

Here to Love
Let Love Rule
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar