Al Kooper likes to talk.
The other night, the rock guru told me stories over the phone for, as he pointed out at the end, two hours and five minutes. And we’d started at midnight. (He’s an insomniac.) He was calling to promote his appearance at the Dakota Jazz Club.
On Sunday at the Dakota, Kooper talked. A lot. At least half of the 3 1/2-hour program was devoted to him talking. And he wasn’t even onstage for the first set; he simply recorded introductions about writing a particular song before an all-star band of Twin Cities musicians performed it.
When Kooper finally took the stage, he told even more long-winded tales. Before his biggest song, he yakked for 12 minutes and then played a six-minute version of “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”(made famous by Donny Hathaway with an altered lyric).
That said, the ambitious Al Kooper Tribute featuring Adam Levy, the Minnesota All Stars and Al Kooper, was a fun, sometimes funny and totally free-wheeling evening of music and stories.
My friend Satchel described the program as an “analog version of Facebook.” Indeed, it was all about Al. He gave the backstories behind each song – the incident(s) that inspired the lyrics, the musicians/composers who might have sparked the music. However, these were stories about Kooper compositions, not about the famous recordings he made with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd and countless others.
The first set featured Kooper-penned tunes – from “This Diamond Ring” (the Gary Lewis & the Playboys hit that Kooper wrote for the Drifters, who rejected it) to “Going Quietly Mad” – performed by a parade of local singers, including Paul Metsa, John Eller and Alicia Wiley. Levy deserves props for organizing and directing this mammoth undertaking, even if the band wasn’t as tight as a touring ensemble.
Highlights were Kevin Bowe getting sassy on the energetic, mandolin-fueled “Mississippi Kid,” a country blues written for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first album; Alison Scott wailing on “Brand New Day,” which was recorded by the Staple Singers; House Pet (that’s his stage name) tearing it up on the bluesy “Easy Does It,” and Dave Campbell and Brian Just harmonizing on the Band-like “Don’t Tell Ma.”
After intermission, Kooper opened his set on B3 organ with a cookin,’, 8-minute version of Booker T & the MGs’ “Green Onions,” with Levy stirring it up with some aggressive guitar. Then Kooper dismissed his three-man rhythm section and shifted to an electric piano.
For the next 105 minutes, he talked, sang and played piano. He did covers of tunes by Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson. He demystified the songwriting process, and, like an old vaudevillian, he told jokes.
“The average age of the people who come to see me is deceased,” Kooper pointed out to the packed room. “So we’re doing good tonight.”
The evening ended with the inevitable jam, first on Kooper’s “My Hands Are Tied,” with nine supporting musicians, and then on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” with a cast of about 15. Frankly, this rendition was embarrassingly free-wheeling, with blown lyrics and missed cues. Thankfully, Martin Devaney salvaged it with his spot-on singing and spirited harmonica before Levy himself took an inspiring turn at the mic.
Of course, one could have easily tuned out the singers and just focused on Kooper’s B3 organ, which gave the kind of goosebumps you experience when you realize that’s the guy who actually played on Dylan’s landmark recording.
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