in performance: joe walsh

joe walsh.

joe walsh.

Joe Walsh is such a paradox. Always has been. But in the 46 very odd years since his first recordings, you would think his rock ‘n’ roll image and the considerable ingenuity of his talent would have discovered a finer balance. Judging by his performance last night at the Louisville Palace, such was not the case.
The good news is that he sounded great, which is probably all that matters. Backed by a 10 member band that included two keyboardists, four backing vocalists and a few stellar West Coast names (guitarist Waddy Wachtel, drummers Joe Vitale and Chad Cromwell), he set about showcasing the hearty endurance of his career within the show’s first two songs – “Walk Away” (his 1971 hit with the James Gang) and “Analog Man” (the title tune to a 2012 solo album, his most recent recording). His voice was strong and expressive while his guitarwork was bold enough to lead the troupe through extended and engaging instrumental breaks during many tunes. Most notable among the latter was the James Gang relic “The Bomber,” which sailed through elongated psychedelic passages that touched trippingly on Ravel’s “Bolero” and the comforting melody of Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate Into the Wind” before resettling into the central tune’s crashing intro riff.
All of that effortlessly enforced the fact that Walsh, at age 68, is still a rock force of scholarly ability. So why, after all these years, does he still feel compelled to maintain the dimwitted stoner schtick between songs? When not playing, he rambled, often unintelligibly, about assorted misadventures and general forgetfulness. Decades ago, that seemed like a comic act designed for the Cheech & Chong generation. Last night, it just came across as juvenile put on, as if playing the fool was a base audience expectation.
Hopefully, anyone who bought into the spiel was equally enticed by the guitar roughhousing and prog-ish orchestration that highlighted obscurities like 1972’s “Mother Says” or the ensemble charge and clear-headed vocal command built within more established fare like “In the City” and especially “Turn to Stone.’ Those are instances that truly defined Walsh’s greatness, not the class clown antics that now serve him like a proverbial ball and chain.



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