Paul Shaffer, the perennial sidekick, does just fine as a frontman. In fact, his concert Saturday night fronting the World’s Most Dangerous Band at Ames Center in Burnsville was a crowd-thrilling winner.
He was an affable frontman/bandleader, quick with jokes and praise for his musicians. True to his persona on Letterman, Shaffer, 67, was a little silly (he danced like a Motown extra), overdressed (blue brocade suit for one set, black high-end pleather or super-thin leather suit for the second set) and full of show-biz lore (his reminiscences of James Brown on “The TAMI Show” were detailed and priceless).
Of course, Shaffer is not a singer; he was serviceable at best. But he’s savvy enough to stock his band with two top-notch vocalist/instrumentalists (Felicia Collins and Will Lee) and bring along a guest singer with a storied career (Valerie Simpson).
It’s no secret that the World’s Most Dangerous Band – Shaffer reclaimed the moniker since Letterman is no longer on TV – is a terrific ensemble.
On TV, you may have heard only snippets here and there as the show went into or came out of commercials. But they played with precision and flair on Saturday – even with a substitute drummer, Will Calhoun, of the band Living Colour. Shaffer made sure that every player – from the horn men to the drummer – got solo opportunities.
The repertoire was rock ‘n’ soul oldies (Georgie Fame, Grand Funk Railroad, Sam & Dave), drawn in part from the new album “Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band,” which features various guest singers including Jenny Lewis, Dion, Darius Rucker, Bill Murray and Simpson.
Simpson, a revered Motown figure, dominated the second of two hour-long sets, with songs she wrote for others (“You’re All I Need To Get By,” “I’m Every Woman” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” a duet with Shaffer) and for her own duo Ashford & Simpson (their 1984 smash “Solid,” which, Shaffer pointed out, featured Sid McGinnis of the World’s Most Dangerous Band on guitar).
Simpson, 70, was full of personality and pizazz, though her voice has lost a bit of its range.
Her minor vocal shortcomings were apparent whenever Collins handled lead vocals. The veteran guitarist with the nearly floor-length braided hair tore it up vocally all night long. She sang James Brown material with gritty authority (loved her doing “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”) and was a vocal dead ringer for Michael Jackson, especially on the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”
Bassist Lee also did a credible vocal impression of Brown and offered a wonderful, spot-on reading of Billy Stewart’s 1966 version of Gershwin’s “Summertime” complete with his rolling tongue and held notes. It was one of many highlights.
If there any disappointments, they came in the technical department. The visuals on the introductory video didn’t work at first and fixing that took longer than necessary, especially since this was the last night of the tour. And, during the rest of the concert, the sound system seemed less than worthy of such a world-class band.
Nonetheless, Shaffer carried on with such a contagious joie de vivre with his first-rate band and classic repertoire. To see a group of studio musicians play a full concert in front of a near full house made for a fulfilling evening.