Twin Bill

I'll begin a look back at two big shows from the past week with a disclaimer: it's a phone camera. It's not unusual to be prohibited from having or using a camera in a concert, but you can ususally grab a shot with your phone, which is what I'm doing occasionally now just to have something to show you. Obviously the quality's not up to snuff but it's something. And I think I risked confiscation to grab the above shot in Charlottesville's deluxe new venue, the John Paul Jones Arena at UVA. It was our first time there and our first time to witness a performance by the durable Bob Dylan. I've seen the Beatles and the Stones live but I missed a chance to see Elvis when he was here in the 70's and have always regretted it. So seeing Dylan was a must, especially since I got to see Elvis too!
I'll admit I've never been a serious Dylan disciple...I liked his sixties stuff..."Like A Rolling Stone," "I Want You," "Just Like A Woman" and I enjoyed his latest somewhat mushy pop outing, Modern Times. Most of the material in between got past me, but you can't deny his influence and impact on our music and our culture. He cut quite a figure as he strode out to a retro-intro delivered by an invisible emcee, dressed in a Spanish-style dark suit with white collar and cuff accents and a powder-gray gaucho hat. His veteran six-piece band wore matching gray suits and black fedoras and provided a perfect visual and musical backdrop to the poet's 90-minute set. It would be a stretch to call the former Mr. Zimmerman a singer, especially since his trademark rasp is now delivered in short, stacatto bursts that left me wishing for lyric sheets. I did better with the more familiar ones like "Don't Think Twice," "Tangled Up In Blue" and his closer "All Along The Watchtower" which of course ended up as Jimi Hendrix' biggest hit back in '68. And Bob Dylan continues to let the music do the talking as the only words spoken during his set were "Hello friends" and a spare intro of his bandmates.

It may reveal some lack of depth on my part, but for my music money, the goods came early in the "opening" performances by r&b sensation Amos Lee and the charmingly unplugged Elvis Costello. First Amos Lee...we'd been told by a friend's daughter that he was worth the price of admission alone and she was right. Amazing voice, great material and one of the tightest bands you could ever hope to hear. His keyboard guy Michael Bellar had his rig sounding like a big, fat Hammond B-3 with Leslie and he just nailed it. Amos closed with an inspired rendering of Sam Cooke's anthemic "A Change Gonna Come," and it brought the house down.

After a brief intermission, Costello, bristling with energy and charisma, let forth with a non-stop, all-too-short set of his thought-provoking, well-crafted songs including "Alison," and "(The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes." Armed only with his vintage Gibson dreadnought, Elvis revealed something I discovered during his well-received performance at MerleFest earlier this year...this guy can sing. With pitch and power. A fitting vehicle for his potent lyrics. The only disappointment was when he mentioned that his singing wife and their new twin boys were hangin' backstage, not saying she was none other than jazz stylist Diana Krall. Having her join him for just one number would have been a treat. Has anyone seen them perform together?
So the new home of the Hoos doubles well as a venue for music...the sound was terrific. We sprung for an extra twenty bucks for on-site parking and it was worth it; in and out via Rt. 29 was a breeze and we got a spot right next to the building. But the popcorn was chewy.
48 hours later we hit the Fan for the third Out O' The Blue Orchestral Revue, an occasional collaboration between Richmond troubador and radio host Page Wilson and the Richmond Symphony. These wonderful outings aired live on WCVE 88.9 FM have been a thrill for fans and friends of Page and his Reckless Abandon bandmates Jay Gillespie, Jim Skelding, Charles Arthur, Chris Fuller and Billy Lux. Hearing our ol' pickin' pals up there doing "Swim Nekkid In The Ocean" and Page's familiar theme song, "Virginia" with the nearly surreal backing of the Symphony was simply beautiful. And credit solid back-up vocals from Chris and Billy along with a great sound mix in the Landmark Theater for making the evening as memorable as its potential. Charles' gifted wife Sarah Arthur and her sweet band Piedmont Souprize along with Billy Ray Hatley & The Showdogs also had their turn, playing a few numbers on their own, only to be joined by Mark Russell Smith conducting our amazing orchestra with charts delivered by Richmond's gifted arranger and jazz guru Doug Richards. The results were a treat for the musicians and the audience alike. Kudos to Page for the 11th anniversary of those two Saturday night hours of music from the Chickahominy Swamp, and to the Richmond Symphony for 50 years of greatness. And a fond farewell to its dynamic conductor who has surely made his mark.
An evening like that makes one proud to call Richmond home, and so does what's on its way in less than two weeks...our third and last National Folk Festival. More on that and reports from bluegrass music's biggest week, the IBMA's in Nashville...coming up.
Come on back...TT

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