in performance: the james hunter six/liz vice

james hunter. photo by mark shaw.

james hunter. photo by mark shaw.

In the closing moments of tonight’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, British pop-soul ambassador James Hunter offered a few vaudevillian turns on guitar. During an encore version of Talkin’ ‘Bout My Love, he played his instrument upward like a double bass, then let it slip from his hands as if he were going to bounce the guitar off the stage floor like a basketball. In general, Hunter acted like an entertainer determined not to leave without a little levity.

The truly funny thing, though, was he didn’t need any of that schtick. The rest of Hunter’s WoodSongs set – specifically, four economical tunes from his fine new Hold On! album – offered a fascinating retro blend of British soul that borrowed generously from pop, rhumba, bossa nova and lots of vintage rhythm and blues. And that was just what you heard within the musical fabric of the singer’s expert sextet, imaginatively dubbed The James Hunter Six. The real magic was Hunter’s singing.

For Something’s Calling, an effortless, good natured soul croon heavily reminiscent of Sam Cooke was employed. Such a reference illuminated the neo-lounge style sway of A Truer Heart as well as the more exacting soul sound – one where the baritone and tenor sax duo of Leo Badau and Damian Hand played with almost metronomic precision and restraint – of (Baby) Hold On and If That Don’t Tell You. There were occasional shrieks of vocal falsetto to fuel the fuss, but the joy boiled down to the Six’s natural but animated ensemble charge and the scholarly soul voice that fronted it.

Portland, Oregon gospel-soul stylist Liz Vice, the program’s other featured artist, seemed almost purposely timid in comparison. Backed only by a drummer and keyboardist, Vice revealed an appealingly melodic vocal tone in songs like Enclosed By You and a meditative cover of Pure Religion (both from her 2015 album There’s a Light). There wasn’t much dimension to her singing, though. A curious encore recasting of the Nirvana staple Smells Like Teen Spirit as a torchy jazz meditation only added to the stoic feel of her set, especially when compared to the combo party gusto Hunter was letting rip alongside her.

in performance: alejandro escovedo

alejandro escovedo. photo by todd wolfson.

alejandro escovedo. photo by todd wolfson.

“Your silence is most revealing,” remarked Alejandro Escovedo early into a sublime trio performance last night at Willie’s Locally Known. The comment didn’t reflect any disinterest on the part of the sold out crowd. In fact, pockets of patrons were annoyingly chatty throughout the show. It was rather an observation made after the singer described how a population explosion within the Texas metropolis of Austin has forced numerous artists, including himself, to relocate – a topic fleshed out during the show’s second song, Bottom of the World. In true Escovedo fashion, the tune was a stylistic mesh-up, opening with elegiac grace before reverb soaked vocals and a honky tonk keyboard roll underscored the tune’s inherent sense of upheaval.

So what if the song’s geographic/demographic saga of Lone Star displacement didn’t fully register with the Lexington audience. The music most assuredly did with Escovedo, cellist Brian Standefer and keyboardist/harmony singer Sean Giddings forging works of fragile, folkish intimacy and scorched electric immediacy into keenly orchestrated works of considerable emotive depth and breadth.

Escovedo said at the onset of the 90 minute set that the performance was part of a tour designed to promote the vinyl reissues of his first two albums, 1992’s Gravity and 1994’s Thirteen Years. In reality, he played only one song off those records, a gorgeous show opening reading of Gravity’s Five Hearts Breaking that capitalized on the quiet but immensely complimentary support of Standefer and Giddings. After that, the program shot ahead for a trio of tunes from 2012’s Big Station with the sublime 2001 ballad Rosalie serving an elegiac, chamber-friendly interlude.

While Escovedo has completed his next album with an eye for a September release, last night’s performance shied away from new material to focus on, in a description he attributed to his son, “old music for old people.” But there was considerable life in such elder works, from a wonderfully ragged electric medley of Chelsea Hotel ’78 and Everybody Loves Me that revealed Escovedo’s still-abundant punk perferences to the comparative acoustic reflection of San Antonio Rose and a show closing cover of the David Bowie-penned Mott the Hoople hit All the Young Dudes, the latter being part eulogy, part requiem and part sing-a-long affirmation.

ringing the changes with hunter hayes

hunter hayes performing at rupp arena in september 2015,

hunter hayes performing at rupp arena in september 2015,

Towards the end of the biography info embedded into Hunter Hayes’ website, past the part where he makes a self-effacing confession (“First of all, you should know I’m a geek”), describes his music listening preferences (“I’m obsessed with vinyl”) and champions his mom’s culinary expertise (“She makes the best gumbo ever”), the youthful Nashville star outlines three of the inspirations that figure into his very contemporary brand of country music and how the resulting sound is presented onstage.

“I want it to be a mix between Chris Martin, Garth Brooks and Michael Buble.”

Hayes, 24, let out a short, fractured but acknowledging laugh when that grocery list of influences was read back to him. But he was also eager – in rapidly delivered, chopped sentences reflecting a conversational mode best described as “caffeinated” – to explain how multiple modern musical styles play out in a sound he proudly claims as country.

“I love country music dearly, but I grew up with such a variety of country music to listen to,” said Hayes, who returns to Lexington this weekend to perform at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event. “I think everyone in this genre brings something significant to the table. That’s kind of our job. I like the challenge of finding a name for the mix because I’m bringing a lot of things in. But it all comes home because this music is my home. That’s what I love doing. I love mixing it up.”

A native of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, Hayes was still in his teens when work began on his self-titled debut album. The record would go on to score three hits, including the No. 1 single Wanted, before reaching quadruple platinum in sales. The charttoppng Storyline followed in 2014 along with near non-stop touring that brought Hayes to Lexington last September for an unannounced performance at Cosmic Charlie’s on his birthday and a show-opening spot for Lady Antebellum’s Rupp Arena concert the next evening.

The touring regimen has purposely cooled a bit in 2016 so that Hayes can write and record songs for his next album, songs with one common theme in mind: change.

“There is this thing about whenever you release any debut record in your pre-younger 20s just because there is so much that changes in a person’s life between, let’s say, 18 and 25. For a lot us, it’s college. It’s the start of a career. A lot of us move away from home in a search for something, so there’s that. Some of us stay home and find this calling. There are all kinds of different things that happen, a whole list. Even for me, even though I’ve found my passion and started the path of my career before I was even 18, I’m still going though a lot of changes as a person.

“The focus for me for this next record is to treat it like a debut record. I’ve never really loved following anything up, so I’m really viewing this record like it’s a reintroduction. It’s not a start over, but a lot has changed. What’s really the coolest thing about it is knowing my fans are going through this with me. We’re all changing. We’re all discovering things. That’s kind of the fuel for this record, knowing that we’re all in this thing together. We’re all discovering our lives, we’re discovering ourselves. It’s very much what we’re writing about.

Change or not, with any level of stardom – be with from a popular newcomer or a practiced arena headliner – comes responsibility. Hayes is more than aware his connection to a youth based market means his music may well serve as the first country sound to hit many of his fans’ ears.

“Country music is a big genre. It’s a big place. It’s really cool, too, when you’re part of someone’s introduction to country music, or maybe just the connection. Maybe they’ve heard country before but they’ve never really had that connection. It’s just great to be part of that.”

Hunter Hayes and Ryan Lafferty perform at 6 p.m. April 30 at Alltech Arena, 4089 Iron Works Parkway as part of the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event. Tickets: $35 – $150 at

eventbrite.com.

in performance: pearl jam

eddie vedder performing last night with pearl jam. herald-leader staff photo by pablo alcala.

eddie vedder performing last night at rupp arena with pearl jam. herald-leader staff photo by pablo alcala.

A sign of the times was posted throughout Rupp Arena last night, a curious testament to the staying power of Pearl Jam. It read thus: “Due to the nature of moshing and body surfing, we ask that you refrain from such activities due to the injuries that could occur.”

No concerns there. Together for 25 years and with frontman Eddie Vedder now an agile 51, there was little chance the heralded Seattle band was going to get too physical in facing a massive Rupp crowd of 18,000. What one witnessed instead was a six-man unit (four founding members, drummer Matt Cameron and keyboardist Boom Gaspar) that played a no frills program full of exact and tireless intensity. For nearly three hours, Vedder and company paced themselves with tunes of punkish immediacy and, at times, folkish intimacy.

The band bridged a championed past with a perhaps less chronicled present at the show’s onset. First up was a pair of tunes from Pearl Jam’s most recent album, 2013’s Lightning Bolt. The record’s show-opening title song might have suggested a moderation of the band’s coarser drive from years gone by. But that was before Pearl Jam’s ace in the hole, guitarist Mike McCready, let loose with a series of siren like squalls. Such detonations would become familiar artillery throughout the evening. All of that, however, proved a set-up for Mind Your Manners, a sonic rampage of rifling guitar runs that fell between punk and metal coupled with lyrics delivered by Vedder with the rapidity and drive of a jackhammer.

Then the past came flooding in with gems from the band’s first two albums – Ten’s Why Go and Vs.Animal. Instead of the bountiful angst that seemed to grip the songs over two decades ago, last night’s performances were muscular and precise without losing any of the original versions’ abundant vitality. The contact the songs made with the crowd, as well as the audience energy then hurled back to the stage, was instantaneous.

The artist-audience connection, in fact, was considerable throughout the performance. Sometimes it was obvious, as in Corduroy, where Vedder and the crowd engaged in a séance-like call and response wail that led into the song’s volatile refrain (“Everything has chains, absolutely nothing’s changed”). Ditto for the back-and-forth chant that distinguished Daughter. From there, the interaction took on less visible forms, like an encore cover of The Beatles’ You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away that the audience sang along with as fervently as it did on most of the warhorse originals, and a blistering, eight minute set closing update of Rearviewmirror. During the latter, the steady roar of the audience was as integral to the unrelenting groove as McCready’s ragged guitar ambience, Vedder’s seething vocals and the drum eruption from Cameron that cut loose just as the song seemed like it was finally going to settle.

There were scores of other delights, to boot. A cover of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb (dedicated to Louisville author Mark Wilkerson and his book on paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young) bled into an equally ferocious Do the Evolution. The one-two punch served as the highlight of two extended encore segments that accounted for nearly half of the show’s length while Betterman, played near the show’s conclusion (with a nod to the ‘80s English Beat hit Save It For Later), served as an affirmation of all the unsettled celebration that came before it. A lament of sorts to begin with, the song ran from bittersweet eulogizing to a finale chorus of pure rock ‘n’ roll jubilation. Such was the coarse Pearl Jam rode steadily last night – a journey of still-vital rock urgency, sans the moshing

in performance: james taylor

james taylor performing last night at rupp arena. photo by matt goins.

james taylor performing last night at rupp arena. photo by matt goins.

It wasn’t the most flamboyant of entrances for a veteran pop star, even one as seemingly retiring as James Taylor. Prior to beginning his first ever Rupp Arena concert, the songsmith took off his cap and bowed to the crowd of 8,300. He looked less like a celebrity and more like a cabbie come to collect a fare.

Such an unassuming profile, however, more than befitted a concert that relished in simple, folk-pop comfort. For over two hours, Taylor played decades-old favorites, almost apologetically delved into five fine works from his 2015 album Before This World and, in some the show’s finest moments, uncorked a few generous surprises.

One of the latter opened the performance – a relative obscurity from 1975’s Gorilla album called Wandering. It was a beaut of tune to begin with, too – one with such melodic delicacy and wistful vocal deposition that you tended to overlook the verse about how the protagonist’s thief father was executed by hanging. Such was the genial nature of the song’s lyrical construction and Taylor’s lullaby-like delivery.

Sometimes the arrangements altered several of the more familiar soundscapes, like the way all-star drummer Steve Gadd erupted with a few rolls of thunder as the otherwise plaintive Country Road drew to a close or the way Mexico turned into a travelogue featuring a mariachi turn by trumpeter Walt Fowler and saxophonist Lou Marini before percussionist Louis Conte veered the resulting jam straight to his native Cuba.

But these were simple adjustments in frame settings for tunes Taylor’s fans know every syllable and note of. Luckily, these are also works that Taylor, given the hundreds and even thousands of times he has performed them, still sings with fresh and almost impish vigor. His voice, still clear in tone and intent, has also lost none of its unhurried charm.

That leaves the songs themselves, the majority of which are quite extraordinary. Sure, Your Smiling Face, which almost approximated rock ‘n’ roll, and the blues-jazz party piece Steamroller didn’t push the envelope much. But what did was taking arguably Taylor’s most unabashedly comforting tune, Shower the People, and using a chorus snippet of Purple Rain as its intro and the titanic soul voice of Arnold McCuller as the captain of its coda. It was part eulogy, part affirmation and part testimony.

Speaking of eulogies, Taylor’s best known work, Fire and Rain, still packed the emotional impact of a tidal wave. What was surprising last night wasn’t how quietly commanding the song remains, but how a story of such overpowering sadness could still sound so unobtrusive and darkly intimate.

The Before This World music fit in nicely with the classics, as well, especially Jolly Springtime, which was prefaced by the album’s brief instrumental title tune. Both combined to form a saga of new beginnings, but the story was told with the same quiet contentment that dressed Taylor’s oldest material, like the homesick 1968 reverie Carolina on My Mind, performed earlier in the evening.

It should be noted that Taylor hasn’t been on a Lexington stage since the early ‘70s. As such, veteran fans that have witnessed his frequent performances over the years in neighboring cities might have viewed last night’s show as something of a rerun. But for everyone else wondering why in the world it took half a lifetime for him to play Rupp, patience was rewarded. With cap literally in hand, Taylor returned like an old friend, full of stories that still stir and soothe the soul.

andrea zonn on the rise

andrea zonn. photo by anthony scarlati.

andrea zonn. photo by anthony scarlati.

As a child, Andrea Zonn absorbed every note and lyric to James Taylor’s 1972 album One Man Dog. Ever since then, the acclaimed Americana fiddler and songstress has regarded Taylor as a hero, inspiration and, as of 13 years ago, employer.

Though Zonn has amassed an extensive resume of studio and performance credits that has brought her to Lexington in numerous musical settings – from an arena scale show with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band to a club date alongside banjo stylist Alison Brown to a set of her own last fall for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour – it is with Taylor and his remarkably enduring catalog of folk-pop songs that Zonn has reached her most substantially sized audience. She will be in his company again on Sunday at Rupp Arena when Taylor plays his first Lexington concert in more that 42 years.

“James is not a guy who has a lot of turnover in his band,” Zonn said. “I’ve been with him for 13 years and I’m still pretty much the new kid. There have not been a lot of people holding those positions over the years, so it felt like a pipe dream to want to sing with someone like that. When the phone rang and it was his office calling, it was such a surreal moment.

“It’s been remarkable to be part of his creative process all these years. I have learned so much from him, especially about songwriting. I love observing how artists go about creating their craft. Everyone seems to speak their own language. Everybody has a vision for the songs and the sound they want to create. Our job as sidemen is to figure out how to bring that vision to real life. I love the way James hears harmonies. I love the way he articulates what he wants from each member of the band. But I also love the space he gives everyone to bring themselves into this picture.”

Observing Taylor at work has rubbed off on Zonn’s own music as well. Last year, she released a solo album called Rise that sported a number of high profile cameos including Taylor, veteran drummer Steve Gadd (also a longtime Taylor band member), contemporary bluesman Keb’ Mo’, country star Trace Adkins and dobro great Jerry Douglas.

“Most of my friendships with these players have been really longstanding. Most of them have come out of working relationships. In that, I think you recognize when the chemistry is right. These are really kindred spirits, so it was important to draw from that well. It is amazing to have that community around me and to be part of that creative mindset.”

While the inspirations of her high-profile friends have helped influence her music, the affirmative slant of Rise also draws closely from her own life. Most of the tunes were written in the wake of a series of brain surgeries, along with resulting complications, Zonn’s then-seven year son had to undergo. Such music was not necessarily cathartic, she said, but rather reflective of the time while serving as an acknowledgement of her son’s eventually healthy outcome.

“The catharsis probably occurred before the making of the record and before the writing of the songs. It was more of a reflective process and, in some cases, just gratitude, just the joy of getting through it. While he was undergoing his surgeries and complications, everything else really took a back seat. This was more of a reflection on life and a sort of assessment of the aftermath.

“You can’t go through a life experience like that without it kind being folded into who you’ve become as a person. So that stuff stays true forever. We just keep adding to it. I think that’s just part of the natural evolution of life. Nobody gets out unscathed. It’s just important to take stock every once in awhile and say, ‘Wow. That’s what that was and here’s where we are now.’”

Where Zonn is now is back on the road for a summer tour with Taylor and a band full of heavyweight players (Gadd, keyboardist Larry Goldings, saxophonist Lou Marini, among others) playing a library of vintage hits, new works from the 2015 recording Before This World (curiously, Taylor’s first No. 1 album after a near 50 year career) and a few surprises.

“One of the things I love about James is he always seems to be in a state of being inspired. Part of that is the live performance. There are certain songs that are regulars to the set list, like Shower the People and Fire and Rain. But he likes to dig back in the catalog and play with songs that we haven’t done in awhile. Some of them may be more obscure things.

“I’m just so happy to be back out with James and this band. I’m been really looking forward to it all winter while we’ve been off. I’m also happy that my record has some dirt under its heels and getting a little traction. It’s a wonderful time.”

James Taylor and his All-Star Band performs at 8 p.m. April 24 at Rupp Arena. Tickets: $67.50, $87.50. Ccall: 800-745-3000, 859-233-3535 or go to ticketmaster.com.

lonnie mack, 1941-2016

lonnie mack.

lonnie mack.

There is no disrespecting Prince in noting he wasn’t the only music colossus that died yesterday. Buried under waves of purple posts today and yesterday was news of the passing of Lonnie Mack, one of the true guitar innovators of the ‘60s.

Mack could best be described as an early prototype of the guitar hero. Through a series of classic instrumental singles from the early 1960s– specifically, Wham and a hotwired revision of Chuck Berry’s Memphis – his innovations were less defined by his technical prowess, although he had that in abundance. With Mack, it was more about the sound he got out of the guitar – a charge that was exact, expressive and potent. There were elements of surf and twang, of blues and boogie and of pure effervescent rock ‘n’ roll.

There was just enough dirt in his playing to toy with the inherent country accents of his tunes. But Mack was also a piledriver of a player whose more muscular tunes possessed a roots-friendly sound that bordered on swing, although the rock and pop undercurrents kept things very melodic.

You could detect Mack’s inspiration in the playing of numerous disciples, from the more briskly packed works John Fogerty ignited with Creedence Clearwater Revival (check out Ramble Tamble from Cosmo’s Factory) to the music of his most outspoken protégé, Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Thanks in no small part to Vaughan’s very vocal accolades, Mack’s career enjoyed an unexpected renaissance in the ‘80s, releasing four albums in five years for the Chicago based Alligator label – the most essential being the 1989 live album, Attack of the Killer V (a reference to the famed Flying V, his guitar model of choice). With the Alligator albums came frequent performance stops in Lexington, most notably at the long-since-demolished Breeding’s across from Rupp Arena.

Essential Mack listening: 1964’s The Wham of that Memphis Man (the definitive representation of his initial ‘60s sound), 1971’s The Hills of Indiana (a vastly more reserved and organic country-leaning exercise) and 1985’s Strike Like Lightning (the first Alligator record, a blues-rock joyride with Vaughan as co-producer and guest guitar star).

But to hear the lyricism and power of Mack at his best, just click on a youtube video for Wham and experience two minutes of pure musical joy that cemented his place alongside Dick Dale and Link Wray as one of the cornerstone guitarslingers of his, or any, generation.

prince, 1958-2016

prince.

prince.

Oh, there were stories surrounding the December 1984 Rupp Arena debut of Prince. He wanted his dressing room painted purple. He wanted his hotel room painted purple. He wanted a bath tub painted purple It didn’t matter if the tales were true or not, although the latter request was granted and became one of the Rupp show’s more outrageous stage props. They all fit the persona so completely of a star that had reached a level of commercial popularity the previous summer with Purple Rain that equaled his far more established critical and artistic reputation.

To many, Prince was the epitome of celebrity. He was a funk-soul renegade, a monster guitarist and a restlessly creative and prolific recording artist. But it was his sheer stage presence, along with an innate ability to embrace and shatter social extremes within pop tradition, that will forever define a career unexpectedly halted yesterday at the age of 57.

To that end, Prince joined a very short list of artists whose cultural impact was profound enough to completely shift the way an audience perceived pop, soul, funk and rock music. There was Little Richard. There was Chuck Berry. There was Miles Davis. There was Sly Stone. And there was Prince.

Listen to his early albums – especially Controversy and 1999 – and you heard the sound of youth gone wild. But the means of expression wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll, it was soul music retold with unharnessed drive, curiosity and sensuality. Critics immediately championed him as much for his instrumental smarts as his remarkable sense of songcraft.

With Purple Rain, Prince’s commercial profile exploded. But by 1986, when he played a surprise show at Louisville’s Freedom Hall, Purple Rain was already in the rearview mirror. Audiences expecting Let’s Go Crazy and Purple Rain’s epic title tune got monstrous jams that were, in essence, psychedelic stepchildren of the innovations the artist had cultivated only two years earlier.

Everything was reshuffled again a year later with Sign O’ The Times (which, along with 1999, stand as Prince’s finest work) for music that blended the spiritual, the social and the sexual in to a parade of multi-generational groove. There was also 1991’s pop-soul scrapbook Diamonds and Pearls, 1999’s triple disc Emancipation that broadened its soul scope into retro and futuristic terrain, 2004’s unexpectedly streamlined Musicology and 2014’s unapologetically forward thinking groovefest Art Official Age.

There were nearly 40 studio albums in all. Some were brilliant, others were comparative throwaways. But they all paled next to what Prince summoned onstage. In the four times I witnessed him in concert, the moments that were truly magical weren’t forged out of the hits but rather instances when the artist celebrated life with music that both defined and defied the times.

There was the Santana-like guitar charge of Computer Blue (from his 1984 Rupp show), the brassy soul intrigue of A Love Bizarre (from the 1986 Louisville concert), a cover of Joan Osborne’s One of Us that became a treatise of faith (from a 1997 Rupp return) and a cover of the Sam and Dave staple Soul Man with sax giant Maceo Parker (at his 2004 performance at Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena).

But as fans were absorbing their power and beauty, Prince was already at the next mile marker working on a new groove. The older songs may have indeed been signs of the times. But for Prince, time never stood still.

in performance: drivin’ n’ cryin’

drivin' n' cryin': warner hodges, tim nielsen, kevn kinney, dave v. johnson.

drivin’ n’ cryin’: warner hodges, tim nielsen, kevn kinney, dave v. Johnson.

“I kissed a lot of rings,” sang Kevn Kinney with polite resignation over a Southern soaked guitar melody so sweetly dense you could practically ring the humidity out of it. “Do I get one, too?”

Judging by the two hours the Georgia songsmith and the rest of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ threw down last night at the new Willie’s Locally Known location on Southland Drive, the ring is all his. Over 30 years after the quartet roared out of Atlanta, leaning more to alternative and punk aesthetics than to the pervading Southern rock climate of the time, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ sounded as commanding and fun as ever.

While the sometimes sleepy, sometimes shrill voiced Kinney, bassist Tim Nielsen and drummer Dave V. Johnson (all longstanding DNC members) still play with an obvious vitality, the catalyst for the music was the band’s special guest. Commandeering the lion’s share of the guitar duties last night was Warner Hodges, longtime lieutenant in Jason and the Scorchers, the band that essentially wrote the book on cowpunk before DNC even formed.

The magic Hodges brought the show was considerable. His solos were all full of rock star confidence, yet the broad smiles he flashed after them revealed an artist still with a very honest love of performing. Frankly, though, it was equally fun watching Hodges play rhythm under Kinney’s breaks, adding a chunky precision through the killer riffs on warhorse favorites like Fly Me Courageous, Build a Fire and Scarred But Smarter. But when Kinney switched to acoustic guitar during the second half of the performance, the dynamics within Hodges’ playing bloomed. What resulted was a sometimes boozy rhythmic strut that would do Keith Richards proud and rich, fluid guitar lines that brought Southern stylists like Dickey Betts to mind.

While hardly an outward rock ‘n’ roll showman, Kinney obviously reveled in the band chemistry. While the DNC lineup on hand last night often played with thunderous precision, there were also tunes loose enough for Kinney to honor his influences. The wistful Let’s Go Dancing toughed up enough for the singer to veer off into a snippet of The Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling while With the People oozed in and out of a verse from R.E.M.’s King of Birds.

The whole party ended with Kinney in the middle of the club floor singing Blues on Top of Blues, happily involved with a delightfully ragged guitar solo of his own. Playing from a very different front line, there seemed an almost childlike solace about him. In his own way, one supposes, Kinney got his ring.

in performance: gregg allman

gregg allman.

gregg allman.

The distance between a storied past and a credible, vital present has always made for hard traveling in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. The bigger and more removed the history, the tougher it becomes to have a modern day audience – even if it draws heavily from the generation that championed the artist in question in the first place – to accept any serious revision.

That was the quandary Gregg Allman was in tonight during a sold out performance at the Opera House. With the famed Allman Brothers Band (the groundbreaking Southern blues, boogie and jam brigade he helped front on and off for 45 years) now permanently defunct, the singer has turned to a revue-style ensemble to both honor his past and adjust to a more streamlined here and now. It was a daring mission that yielded only a marginal victory.

First, there was the most inspiring part of the show. At 68, with an epic bout of rock star excess behind him, Allman was in remarkably strong voice. He coated vintage tunes like the ABB’s Black Hearted Woman and his ‘80s solo hit I’m No Angel with an effortlessly bluesy drawl seemingly unblemished by age while serving ballads like Sweet Melissa with a quieter, soulful glow.

Musically, the performance took some getting use to. The ABB classics that opened and closed the show – Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ and Whipping Post – sounded curiously sanitized. It wasn’t just the more moderate pace the songs were taken at compared to their recorded versions from 1970 and 1969, respectively, or the way the tunes were tempered by a horn section. The inherent urgency within both songs, and in much of the vintage material, was just gone. In its place was a sound altogether sunnier, safer and emptier.

Unfortunately, the tunes played more faithfully to their album blueprints revealed greater creative deficiencies within the band. Dreams strutted along with the same easygoing, jazz-like groove that has long propelled the song over the decades. But as it evolved into a lengthy jam, no one seemed able to breathe any serious definition or distinction into their solos. This was especially true of guitarist Scott Sharrard, who spent much of the evening caught between imitations of Duane Allman (especially in his slide playing) and Dickey Betts, the ABB’s founding guitarists.

Everyone had chops to spare, especially the only holdover from the ABB other than brother Gregg himself, percussionist Marc Quinones. But outside of a lively take of the instrumental Hot ‘Lanta, the only tune where Allman’s organ playing didn’t fade completely into the woodwork, the ensemble found little vigor in the older material and zero invention in any of the newer arrangements. When Allman left the stage midway through the set to let the band jam on its own, the performance collapsed completely into an array of faceless riffs, solos and funk exchanges.

It should be noted, the capacity crowd enjoyed the music thoroughly, seemingly spellbound by the show’s undeniable nostalgic sway. That’s fine, as far as it went. It just seemed a shame that a still capable artist like Allman, an obviously proficient band and a truly remarkable back catalogue couldn’t have found a more knowing, intuitive or original way to make the resulting music sparkle more genuinely for a present day crowd so eager to embrace it.

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