Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leon Russell 16 January 2009 The Beachland Ballroom Cleveland, Ohio

Back in the 70's when they were a really bad team, the Cleveland Indians every so often we sign a once great player who was past his prime, hoping to squeeze one more good season out of him. But instead of witnessing one more landmark year out of a once great player, Tribe fans had to watch a painfully sad ending to an otherwise stellar career.
I thought of that during last Friday's Leon Russell show. I have been a big fan of his going back to middle school when I bought my first records and his collaborations with George Harrison and Joe Cocker. I have seen him perform six or seven time since them, and all of them were good shows that featured Russell's great compositions and his keyboard expertise.
But watching him last Friday at the Beachland was painful. Maybe he was showing his age, maybe it was the weather, and maybe it was the fact he is in the middle of a winter tour through the north. I don't know. In the past it was about him and his keyboard playing and singing his own compositions. Last Friday he was a part of a bigger band that played mostly covers. I counted four Stones songs, and more than a few blues and rock standards like "Come Into my Kitchen" and "Hoochie Coochie Man." Thrown in between them were a few Russell classics like "Back to the Island" and "Lady Blue," but their guitar dominated arrangements made them sound a little too much like everything else they were playing.
Leon Russell deserves to be in the Rock Hall, from Mad Dogs and Englishmen and the Concert for Bangladesh to his solo career and his body of work as a songwriter. But what the full house of fans saw last Friday was just a mere shadow of what he once was. I hope it was just an off night and he still has something left.
Local rockers Oliver Buck and the New Madrids were the opening band and they were very impressive, playing straight ahead guitar driven roots rock featuring their own compositions. Amongst the highlights were "Milwaukee" and the closer "Home to You." Their current album is "Prodigal Son." They have a bunch of near by shows coming up, check them out at

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