Sunday, February 7, 2010

Five best things: Live music

5. Any Little Feat show. These guys don’t play concerts. For one thing, they usually play small venues – clubs, bars, small auditoriums. For another, they play a completely different set list every night, even when they’re on a regular tour, choosing from hundreds of songs they know. Some jams will go on for 15 minutes or more and incorporate two or three different songs, plus a whole lot of improvisation. After seeing a Little Feat show for the first time, an acquaintance said they were “a lot like the Grateful Dead, only real musicians.” I have a signed copy of the classic Little Feat album, “Dixie Chicken,” on my wall at home, plus one of their set lists (from a gig in Jackson Hole, Wyoming). Even if you’re not a fan of jam music, if Little Feat comes to town, go see them. I personally guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Tragically, founding drummer Richie Hayward, whom I've met several times and whose inimitable style drives the band, has liver cancer (which usually does not have a good prognosis). He's only 63.

4. Sweet Georgia Brown at the now-defunct Blue Note jazz club in Las Vegas. This was such a perfect night. It was a very small venue, sort of like a jazz club from the 50s. Sweet Georgia Brown is a little-known blues singer who belts it out with the gusto of Aretha, though surely with not as much raw talent. Anyway, it was a great night made greater by the fact that Georgia invited folks up on stage to dance with her during her rendition of Proud Mary, and Kathleen kicked off her shoes and got up there and blew the place away.

3. KISS and Uriah Heep in concert, Salt Lake City, 1977. Don’t give me any crap about this. I was 18 and KISS had just released Destroyer and they were the biggest band on the planet. Plus, I actually liked Uriah Heep (and I still do). Uriah Heep opened and, honestly, they were so much better than KISS that I don’t understand why the boys in makeup and platform shoes let them on the stage. (Go find some ‘70s Heep and listen to Ken Hensley shake the world with his Hammond B3.) The music was so loud that my ears rang for days and I’ll probably have future hearing loss from that evening alone. All of the people on our row were smoking pot (and we even helped them pass the joints along), but my buddies and I were good Mormon kids and didn’t partake. Alas, we didn’t know about the effects of second-hand marijuana smoke, so we were pretty looped by the time the show was over. We went to an IHOP, where one of our group ordered strawberry waffles and a root beer float. I thought it was so funny that I tumbled onto the floor in laughter. I really don’t recall much about the drive home.

2. North Park Apostolic Pentecostal gospel choir. Kathleen dragged me to this huge church north of San Diego one Sunday. I was skeptical and more than a little intimidated. I grew up listening to Mo Tab (Mormon Tabernacle Choir) and classic rock, with a little heavy metal thrown in when I didn’t think my parents were listening. On Saturday night we had seen blues guitarist Robben Ford in a small club and I figured I had my music fix for this trip. Here’s how ignorant and biased I was (and probably still am) – since the church was in a relatively seedy area of suburban San Diego and I was driving my brand-new BMW 330xi, I feared for its life in the parking lot. I’m an idiot. Kathleen prevailed, and when we pulled in the lot held its share of modest automobiles, but more than a fair share of Mercedes, Cadillacs, Audis, Jags and, yes, BMWs. In fact, my car didn’t turn a head in that lot. But you’re here for the music. After a warm welcome by the folks at the door (and later by the preacher, who had us stand up and introduce ourselves in the 800-seat auditorium, undoubtedly never having had a nice couple from Idaho on the premises), we sat in the pews and listened to 45 minutes of the some best music I’ve ever heard. This is not because I was necessarily moved by the spirit (we eventually left when some of the nice people on the stand began speaking in tongues), but because the singers and musicians were spectacularly gifted and deeply passionate. They blew Robben Ford away (sorry, Robben).

1. The Eagles in concert. I know, I know. The Eagles. They were expensive and highly rehearsed, but that turned out to be the magic. They played for three-and-a-half hours and, near as I could tell didn’t miss a note (this was in San Jose in 2005). Precise harmonies, expert musicianship, the right amount of in-between chat with the audience and superb sound made for an unforgettable night.

Runners-up (in no particular order): Cowboy Junkies at Grand Targhee; Journey at Sun Valley; Regina Belle at Blues Alley in Georgetown, D.C.; Moody Blues with the Utah Symphony at the old Salt Palace; house band night at the House of Blues, New Orleans; Lyle Lovett and his Large Band at Grand Targhee; Santana at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas; Lynyrd Skynyrd at Indianapolis (long story, that); house blues band in a small basement club in Chicago; walking down Bourbon Street any time, any season.


  1. you spelled Lynyrd Skynyrd wrong. big trouble!

    I was with Kathleen (your sister, not wife) a couple weeks ago helping her upload music onto her iPod. She kept laughing at my music and calling me Roger Dean. Then she pulled out a Dan Fogelberg CD so I enlightened her on my love/hate relationship with him and that show in Colorado on my birthday... still scarred for life.

  2. What's an extra "n" among friends? Out of curiosity, what are your particular memories of that cold, rainy night?

  3. mostly that is was my birthday, it was cold and I was sitting on a concrete slab.