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.

fullsizerender-4

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.

 

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.