At the Dakota Jazz Club last year, Leon Russell talked extensively for the first time in concert in the Twin Cities in recent memory. This year at the Dakota, Russell took off his sunglasses for the first time in recent memory.
On Tuesday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer started talking about how his wife told him he should talk more. “I really don’t have much to say,” he said. “Kinda like a politician.” But he talked anyway – after whipping off his aviator shades. It certainly made the statue-like Buddha behind the baby grand piano seem more human.
The 71-year-old, who plays about 180 shows a year, also had a new keyboard setup. Instead of his jerry-rigged multi-keyboard console of old, he had a fancy white baby grand piano (with wavey blue lines on it). It was actually a digital piano with two giant speakers (and a laptop with lyrics) above the keyboard facing the piano man. On the side of the piano was the logo for Starkey Hearing, an Eden Prairie company with which Russell is familiar.
His set list was familiar. In fact, it was quite similar to last year’s at the Dakota – just in a little different order, with a few different selections.
Highlights of the 80-minute show included the introspective solo number “Magic Mirror” (from 1972’s “Carney” album) and the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face” done at full country-gospel gallop.
Backed by a young quartet including his grandson on percussion, Russell liked to reside in that intersection where gospel meets blues at arena-rock volume, with one tune seguing into the next. And he delivered his songs with an inimitable Oklahoma voice that was part drawl, part slur, part mush and totally soulful.
Opening the concert was Barbara Jean, Minnesota’s answer to Emmylou Harris. Backed by Erik Koskinen on electric guitar and David Huckfelt on acoustic guitar, Jean, who played banjo and fiddle, demonstrated a flair for pretty, poetic, dark Americana music.
Russell returns to the Dakota on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Here is his set list from Tuesday:
Prince of Peace >Out in the Woods/ Rollin in My Sweet Baby’s Arms > Stranger in a Strange Land/ Let the Good Times Roll > Dixie Lullaby/ ???/ Back to the Island/ A-Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall/ Ivory Joe Hunter song/ Wild Horses / Georgia on My Mind/ I’ve Just Seen a Face/ Hummingbird / Tight Rope> Delta Lady/ solo numbers (with orchestral sounds from digital piano) Sweet Emily/ Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen > Magic Mirror > Song for You/ band returns Jumpin’ Jack Flash > Papa Was a Rolling Stone > Paint It Black instrumental > Kansas City ENCORE Great Balls of Fire >Roll Over Beethoven
Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler, 2012