Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Leon Russell - 22 March 2012, Paradiso

When deciding if I should head to Paradiso to see Leon Russell I found myself asking the question, how often do you get to witness an artist who has been inducted in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, play at Paradiso? The answer is not all that often, so when the chance comes up, take it with both hands.

Let me start by saying, I am a fan of Leon Russell, FACT. That being said, I am more of a fan of his time spent supporting numerous amazing musicians over the last 50 years, rather then what he has released off his own back.

Even as a fan, the price of admittance was not cheap at 32 Euros. But I really wanted to see him and he is a legend. So what price do you put on seeing a legend? Apparently 32 Euros. So the script was set and I had just talked myself into going alone to my favourite venue to see music legend.

As the concert hadn’t sold out, I decided to do a walk up start on the night. One thing that was evident upon arrival was that the Paradiso would not be filling up to capacity. All up I would say that the large room was running at about 1/3 capacity, maybe only 500 people max. That being said it, this does produce some upsides to the concert experience. It allowed me to roam free and listen to the show from many different places (and take plenty of photos at the same time.) Also the people who were there really were fans, and yes, they showed a lot of the traits of people reliving their youth from the seventies. So the long hair, and bright jacket brigade didn’t really care for anything but that they were there and it was to see Leon Russell take the stage.

When he finally shuffled onstage, Leon looked all of his 70 years. But once he sat down and started to play he was a younger man again.

He was adorned in a brown leather jacket, a Hawaiian shirt, a massive white beard and sunglasses and of course his signature ten gallon hat. He looked exactly like I expected, then he opened his mouth. His Oklahoma (Tulsa) drawl was infectious and I found myself hanging on every word that he spoke in between the fantastic tunes that he decided to play.

The Yamaha piano he was playing came with computer screens, which were a concern at first as I thought he might not have been able to remember the words (Brian Wilson, utilised this approach late last year), but I have come to believe it was mainly for the songs he wanted to play. (Well, that’s what I want to believe anyway).

When I go to see these geriatric rockers I generally enjoy it for a couple of reasons. They all seem to embody the essence of cool, they have a swagger in their step and they usually know how to tell a story to tell or two. Leon had all three. He made his way on stage adorned in his sunglasses and was never short of telling the crowd when he first performed a particular song, or how some musicians are “just strange”. One anecdote he told was about how he always wanted to have a Yamaha (Piano) deal but they were never interested, then he releases an album with Elton John and then all of a sudden they want to know him.
I have found it hard to explain to friends who Leon Russell actually is and what songs he has performed on, but he was a session muso through and through. Seeing him in the footage of the Mad Dogs and Englishman tour with Joe Cocker always makes me smile, especially as he counts in the “1,2,3,4” part of Cry Me a River. The irony being that that is probably not what the rest of the world would remember him for, but it is exactly what I think of when describing him.

Over the course of the evening he covered songs he had originally played on from Joe Cocker, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Rolling Stones (a lovely version of Wild horses and Paint it black). He also played a couple of his songs of the critically acclaimed album “The Union” which he cut with Elton John in 2010 which I thought was pretty good.

Leon explained to the crowed that at his age he didn’t like walking much and if it was ok with them he would just tell them now is the time what he is supposed to walk off and then come back on, and rather he would stay out for a few more songs,. And that is exactly what he did, and the crowd (all aging rockers themselves) didn’t mind one little bit.

At the end of the show I found myself standing next to the mixing desk chatting to the sound technician, I asked if there was a set list from the nights show and he laughed. One of the things that none of the band, lighting or sound guys know is what songs he is going to play, from the very beginning to the very last. I thought this was remarkable, I always expect that as performers get to their twilight years they would have to stay on track, stay familiar, but not old Uncle Leon. He is still trying to keep it fresh, keeping these young fellas on their toes.

He has still go it, don’t be fooled by his shuffle on stage, his voices is perfect and he plays those piano keys like he is still 21.

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