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Even though he has been the voice behind enough significant music to land him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice (Traffic, Blind Faith), Steve Winwood has never carried on like a rock star onstage or off.
That was the case Friday night before an excitable full house at the State Theatre in Minneapolis. Neither Winwood's vocals nor guitar work (yes, he played guitar about as much as he played organ) were assertive enough. Until the encore.
His rendition of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” was what fans had hoped for all night – passionate vocals and impassioned guitar playing. Then his band instantly segued into Spencer Davis Group’s ‘Gimme Some Lovin’” as Winwood headed to the Hammond B-3 organ and kept the crowd partying in overdrive.
What had preceded the encore was good but seldom great. The band was top-notch with guitarist Jose Neto and saxophonist/flutist Paul Bloom, the MVP, getting plenty of solo opportunities during the 95-minute performance.
The set list was heavy on vintage stuff by Blind Faith (“Can’t Find My Way Home”), Traffic (“Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” “Pearly Queen,” "Glad") and Winwood’s solo career (“Higher Love,” “Dirty City”). And there was a Neto-composed instrumental, titled “Facts,” that opened the set.
Too often Winwood’s voice seemed either weak or not forceful enough. Could the sound engineer have turned up the volume? Winwood’s guitar solos lacked drama and momentum until "Dear Mr. Fantasy."
Although the well-lubricated crowd was enthusiastic all night (loved the woman who plopped down in the aisle on the main floor for a song like she was on oriental rug in her living room), the band didn’t really get cooking until “Light Up or Leave Me Alone,” a funky workout that, like many of the tunes, stretched to about 10 minutes.
It’s too bad that it took Winwood -- heretofore boyish but now looking his age (66) with glasses and gray hair at the temples -- so long to shift into a higher gear
Two things were noticeably different about Bettye LaVette’s return to her beloved Dakota Jazz Club on Thursday.
The veteran R&B stunner wore red instead of her usual black. And she sang her new album, “Worthy,” in its entirety to open the show. Both proved to be canny moves.
Precious few artists -- regardless how long or little they've been around -- could get away with opening a show by playing a new album straight through. Neil Young has done it. He's a risk taker. So is Detroit's LaVette, who has enjoyed a critically acclaimed comeback since 2003 after 40 years in relative obscurity.
On first listen, “Worthy” seems a little slow, too many ballads with precious little relief in tempo or dynamics. But, in concert, that doesn’t matter. Because the “Worthy” tunes were perfect live since they are really conversations. And LaVette, 69, is at her best when she’s really talking to listeners in song. She can wring the deepest, goosebump-raising emotions out of a song without ever raising her raw but soulful voice.
LaVette proceeded through the songs of “Worthy,” always acknowledging the songwriters, whether it was someone famous like Bob Dylan or more obscure like Over the Rhine’s Linford Detwiler. The accompaniment was minimal but tasty, especially Brett Lucas’ guitar and Alan Hill’s keyboards.
For many of the songs, the usually animated LaVette was seated on a stool, carrying on these musical conversations with herself or the man who inspired them.
Randall Bramblett’s “Where a Life Goes” was addressed to LaVette’s late sister to whom she was very close, but you also could have interpreted it as being for an ex-lover for whom one still had some kind of affection. James Hooker’s “Just Between You and Me and the Wall, You’re a Fool” was haunting in sound, like “I Put a Spell on You” slowed to a dirge, with a slow-burn guitar solo and LaVette delivering those scolding, kiss-off lyrics in an extended, finger-pointing monologue.
No one mines the pain like LaVette, which was evident on the title track of "Worthy," the closer in the hour-long main set. But she also served notice on the medium tempo, Bonnie Raitt-evoking “Step Away,” that, despite all the heartache and misery, she’s a survivor.
The berating of her exes continued on the half-hour encore, which commenced with Lucinda Williams’ “Joy,” featuring a nasty guitar groove and a much-needed energetic release. LaVette filled “Nights in White Satin” with so much stark loneliness that a listener forget that it’s more famous as an overbaked Moody Blues song.
Asking for requests, LaVette answered one for George Jones’ country lament “Choices,” about accepting the sometimes dubious decisions one has made in life, enveloped in slow honky-tonk piano and Southern-fried guitar. Then LaVette and her fine quartet ripped it up on her own “Before the Money Came,” which eventually found her sashaying through the crowd singing with sass.
As is her custom, LaVette encored solo a cappella with Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got,” the kind of song anyone who has had a life well lived would want performed at their funeral. It certainly is a fitting summation of LaVette’s life.
Deadmau5, Bassnectar and the Weeknd will headline the fourth annual Summer Set Music and Camping Festival Aug. 14-16 in Somerset, Wis.
The pridefully eclectic outdoor fest will feature more than 70 acts including Earl Sweatshirt, Tune-Yards, Thievery Corporation, Lizzo, Hippo Campus, Cloud Cult, Railroad Earth, Ghostface Killah backed byBadbadnotgood and, for the fourth time, Big Gigantic.
Purity Ring, which has two shows at First Avenue in June, also is on board for Summer Set. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony will perform the 1995 album “E 1999 Eternal” in its entirety at the fest.
Three-day tickets start at $149.50 plus fees; camping and parking at the Somerset Amphitheater are extra. For information, go to www.summersetfestival.com
Just when we thought the acoustics at the newly made-over Northrop Auditorium had been tested all they could after a variety of recent rock shows, along came Damien Rice.
The scruffy-looking, golden-voiced Irish balladeer – on his first full-fledged U.S. tour in seven years – made optimal use of the University of Minnesota theater’s refined acoustics halfway through Wednesday night’s 105-minute solo/acoustic concert. He stepped out from behind the mic to the front edge of the stage and proceeded to play “Volcano,” a highlight from his breakthrough 2002 debut, without any amplification. The song resonated magically throughout the reshaped, four-tier, nearly sold-out auditorium (I heard afterward it was audible just fine up in the balconies).
“Volcano” was enough to make the show feel like an intimate living-room performance versus the more expansive, cavernous experience when he played the Northrop back in 2006. Riced added to the "Volcano" fire by inviting about 20 audience members up to the front of the stage to recreate the tag-team vocal parts at the end of the song. Except for the loud, bellowing dude who thought he was Eddie Vedder, the fans nailed their part, and so did the acoustics gurus who oversaw the Northrop’s overhaul.
With an unusually strong voice and lovable, disheveled street-busker demeanor, Rice solidly reminded fans why he was such a big deal a decade ago. “It’s been a long time,” he said a few songs into the set, and then quipped flatly, “Not much has changed.”
He really wasn’t kidding, though. Even with seven years between albums, the songs off Rice’s newest record, “My Favourite Faded Fantasy,” fit right in alongside the long, dramatic, contentedly depressed tunes off the prior albums. A couple of the new tracks were among the highlights of the set, too, including the especially downbeat but beautiful relationship song “The Box” near the start of the show and “The Greatest Bastard,” a delicate and self-damning gem that kicked off the encore before the crowd favorite “The Blower’s Daughter.”
The concert ended just like the new record does, with cellist/vocalist Gyda Valtysdottir of the opening duo Galagalactic joining in for “Long, Long Way.” It was an apt title to sum up the show, given that Rice often took a long, long way around to introducing his songs. He rambled so much, he only fit in 14 songs total before curfew. But maybe we can use that to add to his Irish guilt and convince him he has to come back sooner.
Here’s the set list:
The Professor & La Fille Danse / 9 Crimes / Delicate / The Box / Amie / It Takes a Lot to Know a Man / Cannonball / Volcano / Trusty and True / I Remember ENCORE: The Greatest Bastard / The Blower's Daughter / Unknown song by Galagalactic (with Damien watching from behind drinking wine) / Long Long Way
In the end, the Minnesota Zoo will have some fresh faces for its music series, after all.
Just added since Monday’s announcement are Kacey Musgraves, the Grammy-winning country upstart known for “Follow Your Arrow,” on July 9, and Irish bard James Vincent McMorrow on Aug. 24.
A couple of outstanding pickers – mandolin ace Ricky Skaggs and guitar hero Ry Cooder – will share the bill on July 16.
The addition of Musgraves means theSalt-n-Pepa concert at the zoo's has been moved to July 8.
For the full lineup, see Monday’s story.
VIP box seats will go on sale at 10 a.m. Thursday, standing-room tickets at 10 a.m. April 24 and all tickets at 10 a.m. April 25.
For more information, go to www.suemclean.com/zoo
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