CONCERT REVIEW- Joe Cocker and Huey Lewis- Denver, CO 8/12/2012
More exclusive content for seeyouattherockshow from our mountain correspondent, Nanker Phledge-
The first time I saw Joe Cocker in person was at last year’s Red Rocks season opener supporting headliners Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Just about everyone my age saw the tie-dyed Joe in the “Woodstock” movie, heard the killer live LP with the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, and saw the hilarious send-up on Saturday Night Live where Belushi and Cocker stood toe to toe onstage, careening wildly between satire, self-parody, sincere flattery, and mere revelry in a surreal ” Is it live, or is it Memorex?” moment. On that cool June evening last year, the GA section in front of the Rocks stage was packed with Sixties relics and flotsam eager to relive the era, and Cocker did not disappoint. His hard rocking band and soulful singers blasted through the Mad Dogs catalog with hardly a breath between songs, as if Cocker had been pub crawling with Ponce De Leon all those missing years. When the aging stoners down front realized they were in the presence of the beast, they began toking furiously, and the familiar cannabinimbus cloud soon covered the Red Rocks stage.
Cocker skipped offstage to raucous applause, the lights came on, and before long the Heartbreakers were rocking out one great song after the next. About three songs in, Petty stopped to give what is sometimes a headliner’s throwaway gesture, the ” let’s hear it for the opening act” schpiel. But Petty sounded so sincere in his appreciation for Cocker’s set, you almost knew there was more coming. Petty continued:
” I ran into Joe as he came offstage and I asked him how it was out here. He said, ‘ Tom, I don’t smoke anymore, but I think I’m stoned! ‘ ”
Joe is now a Colorado resident, and he seemed quite at home in the friendly confines of the Denver Tech Center’s downtown anti-Red Rocks, the former Fiddler’s Green, now abysmally renamed as the oxymoronic Comfort Dental Amphitheatre. (The shameless commercialization of public spaces through “naming rights” is yet another perversion of the ludicrous ” corporations are people, too” notion espoused by Willard and the Cheney suckups on the Supreme Court, but back to Joe.) Having shed the tie-dye for natty business casual attire, and somehow mitigated his Tourette’s-like onstage spasms, Cocker now seems content to let the band and his idiosyncratic voice carry the show. While not hitting all the highs, and not quite delivering the thunderous growl we’ve come to crave before the last chorus of ” With A Little Help From My Friends”, Joe had plenty to give, and spared nothing. Starting with the Mad Dogs classic ” Hitchcock Railway”, then Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright”, and continuing through Alex Chilton’s soulful Boxtops’ hit ” The Letter” , Joe let the band flex its muscle, the girls sing and prance, and the pace of the show ebb and flow, with ballads “Love Lift Us Up” and “You Are So Beautiful” interspersed with ” Come Together” and ” You Can Leave Your Hat On”. Though many of the Boomers had already filed out – it was a “school night”, after all– Joe brought the band back for an encore of two powerhouse classics, ” She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”, and ” Cry Me A River”. Though the pace of the latter had slowed from the classic Mad Dogs’ live recording- the bandleader’s “one, two, three, four” before the last chorus would probably have reached six last night- there was little doubt that Joe had come through again.
In the music biz, and on popmeister Matthew Sweet’s song, a bill like last night’s is sometimes called a “dinosaur act”. Bands that Used To Be Huge return for another gorge at the trough, sometimes managing to deliver an artistically valid rendition of past work, and sometimes just playin’ the hits for dough. The latter can make for strange bedfellows. For decades, Beach Boys fans had to endure Mike Love’s constant ragging and ballbusting on his tortured genius bandmate Brian Wilson. Then, when the prospect of a million dollars or so arose if Brian would tour with the band, Love suddenly embraced his old friend and stopped bitching. Well, at least until the tour is over. ( Memo to Mike Love: If not for Brian Wilson, who merely wrote, arranged, and produced every ancient song you’ve been paid handsomely to sing, no one would know, much less care, who you are. Shut up and get on the plane. Or in your case, the gravy train.)(Guess the honeymoon has ended: http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/21/showbiz/beach-boys-split/index.html?iref=allsearch –Ed.)
So shows like this are best approached with trepidation. You might get a bunch of washed up guys playing out the string, or worse yet, a Band In Name Only. Yes, that corporate naming phenom had its predecessor in agents’ negotiating or litigating for the right to use and market an effectively defunct band’s name, leading ( or misleading) to tours by guys who were never in the band, or were of no importance. Recent years have seen absurdities like a ” Credence” revival without John Fogarty, and Richie Furay and some buds touring as ” Buffalo Springfield”. Without Neil? Without Stills? Richie, couldn’t you just pass the plate an extra time on Sunday?
Given all this, it was a great relief to see not only Cocker, but opening act Huey Lewis and the News deliver spirited, well-played portions of their famous repertoires. Huey’s endearing stage presence and smooth voice brought the crowd to their feet several times for hits like ” Heart of Rock and Roll”, ” Jacob’s Ladder”, ” I Want A New Drug”, and the rousing tribute ” to the working man and woman”, ” Workin’ For A Living” as an encore. The show’s highlight may have been the backup singers’ trading lines on the Staple Singers’ classic Stax hit, “Respect Yourself”, with the lyrics ringing true even today: “Keep talkin’ ’bout the President won’t stop air pollution; put your hand over your mouth when you cough, that’ll help the solution”.
Respect yourself, indeed. If only the current Presidential campaigns offered such practical advice!