Kris Kristofferson: A Profound Experience

Last week I wrote about Diana Ross’ nearly perfect show. Although, that was not the only show I saw that weekend. Sunday I had tickets to see Kris Kristofferson as well.

It was sensory overload.

Now it’s easy to see the stark differences in Diana Ross and Kris Kristofferson. I hope this speaks to my diversity or mental instability. I went from turning upside down to hanging with Bobby McGee within 48 hours. That’s quite a stretch.

I received an email from a friend a few weeks ago with a link to Kristofferson’s show at The City Winery in NYC. Now I’m not a Kristofferson expert, but the tickets seemed irresistible. Oddly, I grew up watching A Star is Born, and I knew some of his songs. He reminded me of home, so I decided to buy.

Kristofferson left me speechless. I didn’t know what to say about his show, and I still don’t. The only word that I can find to describe his set is profound. Every note he sang, every lyric he wrote, every look he gave the audience was simply profound.

He sang a staggering 28 songs. These songs ranged from his hits like “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and “For The Good Times,” while also touching on some minor musical milestones. From the moment he began to sing I could not take my attention away from the stage.

During his show, he seemed to profess wisdom while singing the same songs he has sung for years. Instead of coming at them from just experience, his demeanor also led to advice. This concert was set in a winery and I felt like it was my grandpa and I having drinks together. Kristofferson wanted to give me advice so that I could have a better tomorrow.

The entire show told a story. It was a concept show. Although, I don’t think Kristofferson meant it in that way at all. Each song was a chapter. Every topic he sang about came to a head at the end of the show with the songs “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33,” “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” “Jesus Was a Capricorn,” and “Why Me.” I believe these 5 songs, some of Kristofferson’s best, describe both the high and low of his life and the topics he struggles with. Life may be tough, but he is just happy to be alive.

It was a simple show. The stage was just adorned with Kristofferson, his guitar, and harmonica. What struck me the most in retrospect is how relevant his songs are today. They have passed over generations and he is still writing. He finds a way to explain timeless truths in a language that will never be antiquated.

Seeing him live is surreal and truly a profound experience.

 

Diana Ross: A Concert Review: It’s Her House

When it comes to defining superstar look no further than Diana Ross. From the elegance of her smile to her ageless vocals, she is the entire package.

Recently, I saw Ms. Ross’ during her mini-residency at New York City Center. Her final night was Saturday. This was my fourth time seeing Ms. Ross in concert and although my pocket-book feels pain, I feel completely blessed.

Ms. Ross started the concert out with her iconic 1980’s anthem “I’m Coming Out.” The energy in the room was magnetic, drawing all eyes to the stage as one began to hear her fragile, yet demanding voice. The atmosphere turned electric when she stepped on stage.

She quickly followed with a near chronological order of some of her biggest hits and fan favorites. She started out with the timeless tunes from her tenure with the Supremes. These songs have lost none of their splendor with Ms. Ross. It’s nearly impossible not to sing along with her with the likes of “Baby Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Stop! In The Name of Love.” I don’t think she has aged a day since The Supremes 1962 debut.

It wasn’t soon that Ms. Ross turned to her everlasting solo career with some of her top dance/disco hits, “The Boss,” “Upside Down,” and “Love Hangover.” There are no words for the energy she produced in the room. A few lucky fans were even lucky enough to be chosen by Ms. Ross to come dance alongside her during “Upside Down.”

Although Ms. Ross knows how to throw a party with a song, some of my favorite moments of the concert were when she slowed it down and simply sang. “Touch Me In The Morning” and “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going Too)” are always amongst my favorite moments from each show I have seen of hers. For this concert, my favorite moment was when she embarked on Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.” No one will ever be able to sing a song like Holiday, but Ross also proved that no one can sing a song like her.

Then Ms. Ross began to close the show. This is a process at one of her concerts. It’s hard to come off the high of Ross. She begins with her first solo hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” This song immediately had me on my feet. And yes, she can hit all the same notes she could when the song was released.

Then comes her cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Again, it’s impossible to sit as she walks the stage in her 5th gown of the evening belting a number everybody relates too. This is her closing number, but there is always room for an encore if the audience properly requests it (I’ve been to shows where she hasn’t returned). She closed the night with another one of her early hits “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).”

With each show I see of Ms. Ross’ I have always walked away amazed, not only from her pure musical talent, but the atmosphere she creates for an audience. When the music begins and her smile comes to the stage there is immediately a feeling of acceptance. When Ms. Ross sings she immediately erases your background, race, age, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Her music and presence bring people together. This atmosphere is created through the love she portrays for every fan. It’s seen in the halls of the auditorium and the random dance partners found all over the concert hall.

I had two thoughts as I walked away from this show. First, entertainers just aren’t constructed the same as they once were. Ms. Ross comes from a land where autotune didn’t exist and dancers were not a necessity. She is the fully rounded performer.

My last thought walking away was, “When’s the next show?” I think I could see her a dozen more times and still want to see her again. Not many artists do this for me, and I’m often a tough critic, but it’s not just the music that brings me back. It’s the memories and love that I have wrapped up in her music and celebrity and how she brings this element together amongst everybody in the room. That is what keeps me returning.

Basically, when Ms. Ross enters a room, she makes it her house.

Leslie Becker: More Than You Think You’ve Got, A Concert Review

I discovered Leslie Becker‘s music last year. Initially, I became hooked on her hit “Slow Burn” and then “Confidential.” I proceeded to visit her Soundcloud and listen to her wide array of songs from pop and country to musical theater. As an added bonus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she had written many of these compositions.

img_0378Although I have listened to her songs many times over, I have never seen her live until last Monday. I thought I had a firm grasp on her as an artist and performer and understood the culture she created through her music. I was wrong.

Becker performed at the W Hotel in Times Square. It was a double-header of sorts, for she was going to do a pop-up show at 7:00 strictly with her pop material and then an acoustic set was to begin at 7:30.

The 7:00 pop show was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Becker’s performance. I was mostly familiar with these tunes (“Slow Burn” and “Confidential”). She did not disappoint as her voice permeated the Living Room at the W. It may have been in a small venue, but she performed like it was Madison Square Garden.

Any music fan would have been completely satisfied with the first set, but the second set was really where Becker pushed her music into a new dimension. She started out with some of her more upbeat country songs, “Boy Toy” and “Marlboro Man.” These were great, but when she went into the country ballad “You Blues” I swear I felt my ears move.

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Photos by Liz Maney

“You Blues” is a beautiful country ballad that you could easily hear classic country stars like The Judds, Vince Gill, or Reba McEntire belting. This song enveloped the true essence of country music and put a lot of the new and “bro” country to shame.

Becker then went into a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” This was an ironic part of the show for Becker works with Joe Vulpis, the producer credited for giving Lady Gaga her start in the music industry. Her vocals commanded the lyrics in such a way I almost forgot Becker wasn’t the original artist! She performed this as a duet with Alex Ortega.

The most touching part of the evening was Becker’s homage to her late mother. She explained how her mom had passed away last year unexpectedly. Although her mother passed, she still gave her one more gift. This gift was the song “Love and Such,” a balladesque song with an iron bite.

She closed out the show with more of her country compositions that were reminiscent of true country music and the foundations of rockabilly. She sang a duet with Catherine Porter entitled, “I Cried.” This song was just another that proves Becker just “gets” music.

That evening she also introduced her new single “More Than All You’ve Got.” This song is dance worthy and has a “clapable” beat, but it also gave me a thought on what seeing Becker live is to music listeners. For to truly grasp the artistry of Becker, you must see her live. Becker radiates on recordings, but she dominates the stage. Recordings and video do not give her justice. I’m not discounting her records, they are fashioned to perfection, but they only show one facade of this performer.

As a music fan, she is more than you think you’ve got.

 

My Love Letter to Kristin Chenoweth: A Review

Dear Miss Kristin Chenoweth,

Many years ago in my wonderful years of adolescence, you made me love you. I have to admit though, I did want to do it. My friend introduced me to you through the Wicked soundtrack. You see I wasn’t much in to Broadway yet, for I was still a little Oklahoma country boy.

That’s something we have in common. We are both from Oklahoma. Dare I say “Thunder Up?”

img_3512Well since then I have collected all of your albums and watched many of your TV appearances. Now it’s hard to fully keep up with Broadway when you can’t make it to NYC regularly, but I tried my best. I guess you could say you were always on my mind….or was I losing my mind?

Any hoo, last Sunday, I was able to see your one woman show My Love Letter to Broadway. It was a dream to see such a historic event and to finally see you solely in your own show. I now live close to NYC. Once you announced this engagement my heart-strings went zing and my credit card bill went up.

The show was simply brilliant. My skin was crawling in anticipation. I even arrived at the theater an hour before the doors opened! You then went straight into your humorous and well thought out “You Made Me Love.” Your version captured the child like essence Judy Garland gave it in the 1930’s, yet you gave it a seasoned entertainers flair and made the song your own, with many humorous stops along the way.

And I agree. You should have been Miss Oklahoma and 60 minutes is a good amount of time.

You then gave us Glinda around the world with “Popular.” What a great concept to give this song new breath! You sounded just like you did on the soundtrack 10 years ago. Do you age? It doesn’t sound or look like it.

 

The songs that brought you into a character really showed what a skilled actress you are. Your renditions of “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” and “I’m Tired” from two distinctly different plays was very amusing and showcased your talent. Is there a role you can’t play?

Now I have to mention your version of “Bring Him Home” here. This song can not do wrong in your hands. I simply offer my applause.

Kristin Chenoweth performing during the Opening Night of Kristin Chenoweth - 'My Love Letter To Broadway' at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 2, 2016 in New York City.

Kristin Chenoweth performing during the Opening Night of Kristin Chenoweth – ‘My Love Letter To Broadway’ at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 2, 2016 in New York City. Courtesy of EW.com

When you sang “A House is Not A Home,” my heart sank. It was the most emotional version of that song I have ever heard. That song holds a very special place for me. This was another ode to you as an actress and pristine song interpreter. You didn’t sing that song in front of an audience, you lived it.

 

It is very hard to pick out a favorite number from the evening, but I truly loved “Upon This Rock.” Thank you for standing up for your faith while accepting others. I’m not sure if I have had that many goose bumps during a song ever. I didn’t listen to that song, I experienced it, and felt His spirit there with us right there on Broadway.

Lastly, I have to say that when I arrived at the theater I was pretty lonely. I don’t have a ton of friends in New York yet, so I came to the show alone. Although, you quickly obliterated that feeling with a “Big Gulp” and that hint of twang only us Okie’s can hear. I felt like you had transported me back home, especially through your song “Fifty Years,” which was a beautiful tribute to your parents. Through your many mentions of the heartland, I could feel the red dirt beneath my feet.

Thank you for an amazing show full of depth, humor, and quality.

Thank you for taking me back to Oklahoma right here in New York.

Thank you for giving your all on stage and leaving nothing.

I simply couldn’t be happier.

Sincerely, your loyal fan and fellow Okie,

Gabe

P.S. Yes, us straight men did enjoy the view from the mezzanine.

Concert Review: Ace Frehley, Space Invader Tour

Last Sunday the Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York hosted the original Spaceman himself, one of the great founders of KISS, Ace Frehley.

Once I received word that Mr. Frehley was going to be coming within 15 minutes of me I knew I had to go. As much as I would love for the orignal Kiss lineup to reunite, I know that is not likely, and besides, I really like Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. So I must trek out on my own to see Ace and Peter Criss.

To be honest, I did not know what to expect completely.fullsizerender-3

I arrived at the small venue and was immediately excited. This concert was going to be intimate and up close. The show promptly began at 7:00 with the opener, Simo. To say the least, they are now one of my favorite bands. I will have a post on them later.

After Simo’s 30-45 minute set and a quick stage setup, Ace came out in all his glory singing one of his signature Kiss songs “Rip it Out.” There was something about his presence that demanded your attention. His saunter onto the stage emulated royalty.

Throughout the set Ace went through many of the songs he sang lead on while in Kiss including “Parasite,” “Shock Me,” and “Cold Gin.” He also sang his signature solo hits “New York Groove” and “Rock Solider.” He sang a few songs that were lesser known off his solo albums as well as a few covers. Ace’s voice was on par. I was a bit surprised at this initially due to his well publicized addiction problems. His voice didn’t portray that struggle. His vocals were just as strong as they had been in the 1970’s

Although Ace has been long removed from Kiss, the show was not without its antics. He still had his solo smoke guitar that emitted enough smoke to reach the balcony. During “New York Groove,” my favorite number, he had a guitar lined with lights. It was pretty awesome when they took the stage lights down and all you saw was a guitar lighting the stage.

Then there’s Ace’s guitar solos. Really, who can compete? His style is one of a kind.

fullsizerender-4But sadly, those were the biggest highlights for me. The rest of the concert was simply a band rocking out with a dash of a Kiss tribute. The band sounded great, but it wasn’t the same hearing “Love Gun” sung by a random drummer. This pattern continued through songs like “Detroit Rock City” and “Deuce.”

The band was phenomenal, but they weren’t who I wanted to see. They were all very talented in their own right, but I didn’t pay to see a jam session. There was this awful bass player (I think it was bass). I don’t even think he was playing half the time with the way he was swinging his guitar around. He acted like he was strung out on something and that he was the star of the show. In many ways, he distracted from Ace big time.

As I walked away from the concert I felt it was sub par. I wish that Ace had played and sang more of his solo material and done just a medley of his Kiss songs. He has an excellent solo catalog. Although I am not familiar with all his solo albums, I wanted to see Ace Frehley and the artist he is alone.

Basically, the concert needed more Ace.

In the end I am glad that I attended the show. It’s not everyday that you see a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame play and beyond my previous comments, I didn’t walk away unsatisfied. I just felt it was mediocre and I know it could have been better.

Next time, Ace just needs to be Ace and bask in his personal musical glory.

 

 

Clear Country: The Leona Williams Experience

I love real country and western music. The material that is released today is something, but it is not founded in what was once country. Give me music with endless fiddles and steel guitars, and I’ll have it made.

This weekend I did just that. I found the perfect pure country show. It was in a little theater in Collinsville, OK. This show was held in the Herron’s Crown Opry Theater on main street. I had gathered word from a few websites and friends that Leona Williams, along with her son Ron Williams, would be gracing the stage at this renovated movie theater.

Ron Williams

Ron Williams

I am used to traveling many hours and miles to see my favorite singers and performers, but this time it was different. Instead of traveling hours to go to an arena to see a huge over produced show, I found myself speeding down the turnpike to find small town Oklahoma. I have spent $100’s on tickets before to these concerts, yet the ones for this show were just a mere $10. There was one big difference between the tickets I have spent $100’s on and this $10 show.

I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed

The show began with a local act, Will Clark and The Back When Country was Country band. They played a great set showing that country purist do not stand alone. Next, Ron Williams took the stage. It’s always a pleasure to hear him sing. He is country to his core and easily echoes many of the greats like Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, and George Jones.

Then it was time for the main event, country pioneer Leona Williams. Some remember Leona from her work and marriage to Merle Haggard, which was littered with musical gems, but Leona’s solo music she made before Haggard and now after is simply country gold.

FullSizeRender-1It wasn’t long after Williams took the stage that she went into one of my favorite songs, “Yes Ma’am (He Found Me in a Honky Tonk).” This single was released in 1970 to rave reviews and garnered Williams some serious air play. It sounds just as good today as it did in 1970, except when she sings it now, I think she is reminiscing. I don’t think Williams frequents honky tonks.

Williams’ show covered so much ground of both the history of her career and the history of country music. She is a gifted storyteller and had many stories to tell over her relationship with Merle Haggard and her close friendship with George Jones. These first hand anecdotes are priceless.

Around the middle of the show, Williams sang “You Take Me For Granted” and “Someday When Things are Good,” which were both number one hits for Merle Haggard. She also sang Connie Smith’s smash hit “Dallas,” which she also wrote. Although these songs by their “original” artists are classics, there is something different hearing them from the songwriter. There’s more honesty and sincerity. You can hear the connection to the heart. Leona is at her best singing songs she wrote.

Williams covered some of her more recent recordings which include “Melted Down Memories” and “New Patches.” Her new material is great and is just as good as anything she has released. She is still on the top of her game. She doesn’t know how to give less than 100%.

unnamedShe closed out the show with some good fashioned country gospel. What I love about country gospel is its sincerity. You can sense the faith in the music. First she sang with Will Clark and her son Ron Williams, “Sing Me Back Home.” She then went into “I Saw The Light” and “I’ll Fly Away” with her son Ron. This was one of the biggest highlights of the show. There was an aura between Leona and Ron that only a mother and son could create. Their warmth was felt throughout the whole theater and their genuineness struck home with every patron.

This was my second time I have seen Leona in concert, and this time I realized just why I am a fan. Leona not only sings pure country music, she sings clear country music.

Leona’s music is completely untainted by any modern trends. She keeps country music alive with each note. Her singing is sterling silver and music unadulterated. She proves that real, unfiltered, clear country music doesn’t need anything new.

Simply put, when the old garment is country music, there is not any need for new patches.

Check out my review of Leona Williams’ and Merle Haggard’s album, Heart to Heart, here.

She’s a Christmas Woman

Last Tuesday I had the privilege of seeing Melinda Doolittle in concert. I have been waiting years to see her in person. Many of you will remember her from season 6 of American Idol where she was the third runner-up.

doolittle_web_largeNeedless to say, the minute she was voted off, I turned off the TV and went to my room. I have never watched an episode of American Idol since.

So when they announced Melinda was coming to OKC to do her Christmas show I was elated. I have all her recordings and I have been keeping up with her since 2009. I bought tickets the moment they went on sale.

Anybody that has heard Melinda knows how immaculate her voice is. Her voice is as strong as a brick, yet as emotional as your mother on graduation day. She possess the soul of Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Diana Ross combined, topped off with a sprinkle of Melinda’s own sass.

(And of course I’m super proud to call her my fellow Okie. She is a graduate of Tulsa Union High School.)

There wasn’t a single Christmas carol or tune left out of the entire show. She took the audience on a journey from winter wonderlands to the manger of Jesus. Her powerful journey took us through “Winter Wonderland,” “All I Want for Christmas,” “Mary Did You Know?,” amongst many others. I could write over every song she sang, but that would make this post nearly a novel.

Here are my favorites and greatest takeaways from her flawless show:

  1. IMG_1586“God Bless Us Everyone.” This was one of her beginning numbers. This is a song
    she cowrote. She sings of love, joy, and peace for all families and how Christmas is a time where everything is brand new. This song really focused on the family and the renewing spirit of the season. It’s just beautiful.
  2. “Home” from the Wiz. Melinda sings this song like it is meant to be sung, an emotional ballad longing for the love that only home can provide. At the beginning of the song, she treats the lyrics with childlike vulnerability and by the end of the song, she has gained the confidence on where home really is. Her rendition is sure to give you chills. This was one of her first performances on American Idol.
  3. “O Holy Night.” Melinda proclaimed this is one of her favorite Christmas tunes of all time. She took a seat next to the piano and sang this song completely stripped down. Her voice painted the nativity and took you there through both the soft touch of a baby with the strength of the King of Kings.
  4. “Mary Did You Know?” She opened with this song right after intermission. Everybody was quickly right back in the show. She gave this song nearly the same treatment she gave “O Holy Night,” yet this time she was full of confidence and undeniable faith. The moments where she had to lean back from the mic due to the power of her voice, nearly made the walls shake. This song must be recorded.
  5. “All I Want for Christmas”/ Diana Ross smash-up. Melinda told the audience that IMG_1585while everyone wanted to be Mariah Carey during school, she was over in the corner listening to Motown and Diana Ross. She opened this song with her best Mariah Carey impression, which was nearly spot on, and ended the song with lyrics from various Ross and Supremes songs (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Stop, In The Name of Love”). This was pure entertainment and fun.
  6. “I Am Woman” She told us after she had seen Rod Stewart sing “Love Train” at the Rockefeller tree lighting while proclaiming it’s a Christmas train, that she felt she could now sing any song and make it Christmas. Talk about attitude and a full soul, rock, r&b performance! She gave her all in telling everybody that she will give them the shivering fits while she gets grits in the pan. She walked around the whole auditorium as she sang this one. A true performer willing to entertain her audience.
  7. “Drummer Boy.” Now we all know this as a traditional Christmas song, but let’s be honest, what does it mean? Even Melinda can’t figure it out. Well, she decided to do a special version by the reknowned artists Justin Bieber and Busta Rymes. All I have to say is yes, Melinda can rap with the best of them.

These are just a few of the songs that stuck out to me. The show was nearly two hours long with a 20 minute intermission. I didn’t even get a chance to mention her golden gown and glitzy jumper.

One of the greatest aspects of this show was Melinda being Melinda. She shared stories and accolades from her ventures through American Idol to personal stories with her family and friends. Melinda was very expressive of her faith in God and how this is the season to celebrate Jesus’ birth (something we need to see more of). She held nothing back and her pure personality shined through. Her show isn’t staged, it’s lived.

To my delight after the show, Melinda came out to sign autographs and meet her fans. I came with her first album insert in tow ready to prove I’ve been a fan since the beginning. As I walked up to the table for her to sign my items she looks at me and asked “Aren’t you the one that tweets me?”

I almost thought I was about to get security called on me.

IMG_1579 (1)We then proceeded to talk about our tweets and we declared ourselves BFFs. She signed everything for my mom and I and continually thanked us for our support of her throughout her career. My mom and I took a picture with Melinda, then she said get one of her and “her Gabe.” It was a priceless moment for me. She is in my top 5 singers and to be recognized by her meant the world.

I can not clearly verbalize my thoughts on Melinda’s concert. My words do not do the concert complete justice. This was the only concert I have ever attended that I wish had a back button, so I could hear certain songs over again.

What is different about Melinda now compared to her American Idol days is that now Melinda can be completely herself. There was no pomp and circumstance. It was just her and her band. That was all that was needed. The band was extraordinary, and Melinda’s vocals were brilliant. She is one of the greatest vocalist of the 21st century.

If you ever have the chance you MUST see her live. It will renew your faith in music and remind you that there are still real performers out there. Melinda is atop the list.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go tweet my new bestie.