Leon Russell House of Blues June 26, 2013
So, Leon Russell played a show last night at the House of Blues, and being the terrific daughter that I am, I took my dad with me. He's always loved ol' Leon, and some of his best memories are of his old hippie days, hangin' out, smokin', and listening to Leon do his thing.
My dad hadn't been to a Leon Russell concert since the '70s at old Hofheinz Pavilion, and he was stoked to go. I, on the other hand, was stoked to hear his perspective on the show, as I'm relatively new to Leon Russell territory and wanted a bit of guidance and insight. What we ended up with were two generations with two very different opinions of the concert. Here's what happened.
I knew from the moment we walked in that this would be a much different review than I normally write. The word fuck, which I often sprinkle liberally throughout my writing, seemed, well, completely out of place in this one before I even began to jot down my thoughts, thanks to the setup and vibe of the venue.
I had never seen the House of Blues general admission section full of seats the way it was last night. The area surrounding the stage, generally full of folks leaning into each other in an attempt to be as close to the musicians as possible, was instead full of rows of temporary chairs. The GA section was roped off, now surrounding the temporary chairs, leaving little room for walking or standing.
It was a strange sight -- with those GA-imposing chairs, it was much more sophisticated than the normal setup, and I should have guessed that the core audience, a well-heeled, older crowd, would have been less than enthused about having to stand, pressed against the stage, for the entire concert -- but given that I'd never seen it, it threw me off.
Russell took the stage with little fanfare, dressed, of course, in his signature hat and white suit, white beard as epic as always. His backing band, a group of four multifaceted, much younger musicians, filled the rest of the stage quietly.
Leon was quick to launch into his first number -- a medley of some of his more favored hits; in that one quick swoop, Russell had covered "Stranger in a Strange Land," "Out in the Woods," and "Back to the Island" at a tempo faster than lightning, but I was uber impressed with the quality of his voice. For a guy who is in his seventies, the man has still got the chops. I was bordering on mouth agape and the speed and agility that he took the numbers on, until the following happened.
I looked over at my dad, expecting to see delight on his face at hearing the hits he'd been talking about for a week prior to the show, and he looked, well, puzzled. Turns out he wasn't feeling that whole "sped up tempo" thing. One of the reasons he's always loved Leon's music was the way in which he took the time to lay out each note, building the story of the song with not only the lyrics, but the music. It made the story come to life for him, and in overdrive mode, it lost that magic. He couldn't help but feel slighted.
As Russell launched into the next few numbers, I could see the look on my dad's face soften a bit, and he found a bit more swag in his movement, bobbing his head and watching the stage intently. It was quite interesting that this old Leon Russell fanatic was so jazzed about those numbers, given that they were a run-through of the Rolling Stones "Wild Horses," Ray Charles' (and yes, a few other folks' song too) "Georgia on My Mind," and a Beatles cover.
As it turns out, he had good reason to be softening a bit. It was the first time my dad really felt that ol' Leon put himself back into the music, whoever that music belonged to. Despite it being a cover medley, he heard that voice, that time, and that Leon he'd been waiting to hear.