Take Me to the Show...
What makes the difference between a great concert and a great performance?? What's the difference between a concert and a show?
I've been to hundreds of concerts. Some have stood out more than others. Obviously. But what do the ones that are unforgettable have that the others don't?
I'll tell you what that is.
I've been floored by how great a show Olivia Newton John put on. (I know. Don't judge. In my defense, the tickets were great seats and they were free.)
On the other hand, I've walked out on Elton John.
I've seen Annie Lennox blow away the crowd as she opened for Sting. But when Gordon himself came out on stage, he left me wanting.
Just because you are seeing someone that carries a big name that doesn't mean you are going to walk away with a memorable experience.
Maroon 5 proved this point for me. I saw them in concert about a year ago. They played one of the larger venues in St. Louis because they tend draw a huge crowd of Millennials and Gen X'ers alike. If you talked to or saw anything about the show on social media, you could be sure that at least five people you knew were going to be in attendance. Everyone knows at least one or two of their songs so it's a fairly safe concert bet even though tickets were on the pricey side if you didn't want a nosebleed.
But the show sucked.
It was completely forgettable. The sound wasn't great, the acoustics were terrible. The songs all sounded the same and it was just Adam and the guys on stage, walking around and singing their "poppy" bubblegum songs.
Chicago, terrible. Doobie Brothers, lackluster. Hall & Oates, first time - great, second time - anticlimactic. John Mayer, boring. Dave Matthews, unintelligible. Santana, opening acts are almost certain to be better than Carlos.
I'm not saying that you have to dance all over the stage like Mick Jagger (who is highly entertaining to watch while he's doing it though). No-one rocks a fishnet shirt like Mick. The point is, I would just like to know that you are capable of something more than barely breathing.
Amos Lee, not a household name by any means, put on a phenomenal show. He came out and sang his ass off. He didn't have any "showy" effects or crazy stunts, he just stood up on a stage with his voice and a Gibson. I was literally sitting in my seat, smiling like an idiot, mesmerized by his voice. He is amazing in smaller venues with good acoustics and I've watched footage of him nailing it at outdoor theaters like Red Rocks as well.
Now, insert deep breath here, Hugh Laurie, (Who??) more commonly referred to as Dr. Gregory House, MD, (Oh! That guy?) put on a fucking spectacular show.
He and his merry band of musicians toured around the United States a few years back. They played small venues and they absolutely KILLED it. (They were that good. I actually felt obligated to underline it for emphasis.)
What? You didn't know he was a musician either?
In utter and spectacularly refreshing defiance of the stereotypical actors-turned-bad-musicians, (Sorry, David Duchovny.) there was a hypnotizing brilliance in Hugh Laurie and The Copper Bottom Band's set that seemed reminiscent of a vaudeville act replete with comedic timing.
And as his musical ability quickly shines through you clearly see that he has been a student of the blues his entire life. "I'm embarrassed to say I don't recall where I was when I heard John Lennon had been assassinated," Laurie once said in an interview with The Times Magazine, "but I do remember where I was when Muddy Waters died."
The ensemble included eight pieces incorporating a horn section, two backup (and occasionally lead) singers, a drummer, and a stand-up bassist. Several of the musicians, including Mr. Laurie, played multiple instruments through the night adding personality to songs with a harmonica, ukelele, mandolin and even an accordion. (My G-pa would have been pleased.) Hugh, who is not only a prodigious piano player, was equally accomplished at knocking out a tune or just gently tickling the ivories. He occasionally jumped on guitar.
You can tell from the first notes that his jazz influences run deep and close to the Mississippi River; particularly New Orleans. The band played pieces from the likes of James Booker, Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, Dr. John and even "When the Levee Breaks" by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie whose part was sung by Gabi Moreno. During her performance of "Weed Smoker's Dream", I could not take my eyes off of her. Her talent was as undeniable as was her beauty. I had a serious "go gay" moment as her voice put me under its spell. At one point, the men from the band gathered around the microphone for a four-part harmony of the Hoagy Carmichael 1930's classic "Up a Lazy River". I felt like I was in the middle of a Vieux Carré dive bar listening to the house band. It was the epitome of French Quarter feel good infectious fun.
When the show was over, the audience yelled for an encore, and then another, and yet another still (which the band was happy to give). The Copper Bottom Band knows how to put on a finale. They pooled every ounce of energy on stage for a third and final encore and belted out Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell".
I have never been more thoroughly entertained by a performance. I have never walked away with the exhilaration that I felt after the curtains closed.
You don't have to ply me with original songs. I'm not a puppet waiting for your next cloned hit. I am not a fan of showboating, unless your name happens to be Diamond Dave. Just the band or artist has won ten Grammys and they can fill domes and stadiums, does not guarantee that an earth-shattering, mind-blowing musical experience is to be had.
There is something to be said for showmanship. There is something to be said for personality. Anyone can stand up on a stage and sing. But, I'm finding this more and more, it's becoming a rarer occurrence to see someone truly entertain me. To put that spark in my soul that says, "Holy shit!! That was a great fucking show!!"
Sing a cover, play something acoustic. I don't care what you do as long as you show me that you do care. I don't want you phoning it in. Just because you could make a ton of money by putting on a show doesn't mean that you should.
Quality over quantity.
Hugh Laurie did not need to go on a tour to make money. The checks he deposits on syndication alone will keep him cloud high on cash. He does it because he loves it. And that love is contagious.
"With so many ways to communicate at our disposal, we must not forget the transformative power of a live music experience and genuine human exchange." Jon Batiste
Top Ten Concerts:
Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band
Fleetwood Mac (the OG)
Trombone Shorty at Red Rocks
Willie Nelson and Family
James Taylor (after the birth of his twins)