Sunday, January 6, 2013
Concert review: Gregg Allman, John Hiatt, and Leon Russell’s Verizon Theatre show was a sometimes-bumpy marathon
"Western Santa" Leon Russell was the wild card.
GRAND PRAIRIE Combined, Gregg Allman, John Hiatt, and Leon Russell have been making records for 140 years, give or take a decade. With that much history to cover, it was no surprise their show Friday night at Verizon Theatre lasted until Saturday morning, or that the 5-hour caravan hit some bumps along the way.
Allman, who headlined the show, wasn’t jiving when he sang about being tied to the whipping post. The 65-year-old singer underwent a liver transplant in 2010 and spent most of his life before that snorting, smoking, or injecting half of Columbia, judging from his new autobiography My Cross to Bear.
He’s sober now, but all that wear and tear has taken a toll on his voice, which wavered during the aptly-titled set-opener, “I’m No Angel,” and sounded thin during the Allman Brothers classics “Wasted Words” and “Melissa.” Midway through the show, he forgot the lyrics in “Tears, Tears, Tears,” the Amos Milburn R&B gem he recorded on 2011’s Low Country Blues.
Allman relied heavily on an excellent band that put a jazzy new spin on old staples. Jay Collins led the way, rearranging “Whipping Post” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” with bold saxophone work -- his only misstep was the flute solo that drove “Midnight Rider” into Muzak-land. Guitarist Scott Sharrard left a strong mark as well, paying homage to Albert Collins as well as Dickey Betts and Duane Allman.
Allman switched between Hammond B-3 organ and guitar, and as the set progressed, he regained enough of his voice to reclaim his title as one of rock’s most soulful white singers. Closing the show with the two-timing sex drama “One Way Out,” he wailed the finale with such verve there was no doubt he’d make a clean escape out the bedroom window.
Hiatt preceded Allman, but he probably should have closed the show with his high-energy 70-minute set. Informing the crowd that “60 is the new 12,” he stomped across stage like a brat in a garage band with his Telecaster turned up to 10, to borrow a line from “Memphis in the Meantime.”
Flanked by ace electric guitarist Doug Lancio, Hiatt stormed through “Perfectly Good Guitar,” “Slow Turning,” and a wonderfully loose and greasy version of “Riding with the King.” He’s one of the wittiest tunesmiths around – who else could rhyme “Queen of Sheba” with “amoeba” in “Thing Called Love”? – as well as a superb ballad writer, as he showed in “Blues Can’t Even Find Me” from his new CD Mystic Pinball.
But Hiatt wasn’t in a ballad-singing mood Friday night: When it came time for his tender lament “Have a Little Faith in Me,” he jacked up the volume and turned it a howling country-rocker.
Legendary songwriter Leon Russell, 70, was the show’s wild card. Looking like a sci-fi Western Santa in his sunglasses, cowboy hat, and flowing white beard, he played whatever tickled his fancy, from a bizarre disco overhaul of the Stones’ “Wild Horses” to a honky-tonk version on the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face.”
He did get around to playing his own classics, including “A Song For You,” and “Delta Lady.” But your enjoyment of any of the songs depended on your tolerance for a voice that sounded like Willie Nelson with a mouthful of Novocaine.
Thor Christensen is a Dallas freelance writer.
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