Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler
Leon Russell mentioned Prince, Mall of America and Starkey Hearing. He knew the Dakota Jazz Club was in Minneapolis.
However, on Tuesday night, he never mentioned Elton John, who sparked Russell’s renaissance in the past few years. He didn’t perform "This Masquerade" or "Superstar," two of his compositions that became hits for others. But he did cover other stars’ songs. Most noteworthy were his two closing rock ‘n’ roll medleys, the only time all night when the sound seemed properly mixed.
Russell — he mentioned Starkey outfits him with hearing aids and delivers hearing aids to kids around the world for free — plays it too loud. Arena loud, as explained in my review. Hence, the dynamics of almost all the songs were the same. Even slower songs seemed too loud and aggressive for ballads. (The piano man ought to know better; he played the Dakota in 2004.)
The only time when the audio dynamics changed significantly was when sideman Chris Simmons did a couple of blues numbers with just his voice and electric guitar.
While Russell’s readings of tunes by Dylan, the Beatles and the Stones showed some imagination, he was fairly faithful on his own material, save for reworking "Out in the Woods" into an edgy unrecognizable blues rocker. The other curiosity was Russell imitating Willie Nelson’s phrasing and nasally voice on "Georgia on My Mind" and "A Song for You."
Here is Russell’s set list from his first of two nights at the Dakota:
Delta Lady/ Rollin’ My Sweet Baby’s Arms > Stranger in a Strange Land/Sweet Little Angel/ Lady Blue/ Kansas City Woman/> Let the Good Times Roll > Dixie Lullaby/ Baby What You Want Me To Do/ Back to the Island/ A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall/ Wild Horses/ Hummingbird/ I’ve Just Seen a Face/ Georgia on My Mind/ Tight Rope/ Out in the Woods/ Kindhearted Woman Blues (solo performance by guitarist/singer Chris Simmons)/ Walkin Blues (Simmons solo again)/ A Song for You (Russell solo)/ medley: Jumpin’ Jack Flash>Papa Was a Rollin Stone>Paint It Black> Kansas City ENCORE (though Russell didn't leave the stage "because I'm not that crazy about walking") medley: Great Balls of Fire>Reelin and Rockin>Roll Over Beethoven