Marc Cohn was the first concert performer ever at the Minnesota Zoo. He’s performed there more than any other artist. So it was fitting that he return during the 20th anniversary season of concerts at the zoo.
On Saturday, the second of his two nights at the Weesner Amphitheater, Cohn was especially talkative – about the zoo, Minneapolis, his many gigs here, himself, his career, John Mayer allegedly ripping off a groove from a Cohn song and two stars for whom he opened separate tours this year, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks.
Cohn explained that one of the special things about playing the zoo is that at first he can see every concertgoer’s face, then as the sun begins to set “everyone merges into a pastel hue” and then it gets completely dark and “it’s like a regular show.”
The raspy voiced singer, 53, recalled an early-career gig at Minneapolis' Lake Harriet Bandshell with a misty rain falling. “I had no idea my record had impact,” he recalled of the packed gig. “I thought there was going to about 15 people. I said to my agent who was there: What the bleep? The agent said to me: ‘This is the rest of your life. Enjoy it.’”
The self-deprecating Cohn told funny stories about Nicks and Raitt. When he toured with Nicks, his 5-year-old son refused to have his photo taken with Nicks. Said she: “That might be the first man that’s ever turned me down.”
Cohn said he could top that with an even racier story from Raitt, whom he called hot, sexy, gorgeous, brilliant, smart and bawdy – “kind of like Miss Kitty” from “Gunsmoke.”. One night, they sang Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” together and they slow-danced during its instrumental break. “It was awkward because her guitar was between us,” Cohn explained to the zoo faithful. “She says in my ear: ‘I bet this isn’t the only wood between us.’ Then it was my turn to sing.”
The Mayer bit might have even topped that one. Cohn was playing his song “Walk Through the World” on piano. And he said that he realized when he was rehearsing this tune with his new guitarist, Kevin Berry, that it sounded similar to Mayer’s “Waiting on the World To Change.” “I’m on the verge of suing John Mayer’s ass,” Cohn joked. To prove his point, Cohn segued from his song into Mayer’s.
“Dear John, You’re welcome,” Cohn deadpanned as if composing a letter. “I love John Mayer but I think he heard that groove and thought ‘I’ll change it from the piano to the guitar.’”
Enough with the stories. But the conversation did heighten the enjoyment of the music and the evening – and they put Cohn in an ideal mood. Highlights of the 105-minute set included “Dig Down Deep” with its Van Morrison-inspired vocal riffing and the encore featuring just Cohn’s voice and piano and Berry’s lap guitar on “True Companion” and “Silver Thunderbird.”
The high point, though, was unquestionably “Walking in Memphis,” Cohn’s signature and breakthrough hit that led to him winning a Grammy for best new artist of 1991. He reinvented the song, channeling his inner Al Green with a detour into a little “Take Me to the River” and “Love and Happiness” (complete with Green-like squeals and falsetto) before finding his way to the Hollywood club with Muriel at the piano.
Opening the concert was Twin Cities singer/pianist Alison Scott, a potent vocalist who somehow managed to cede the stage to her guitarist/manager/backup singer Kevin Bowe.