I have always been a huge fan of Leon’s but never had the chance to see him live. Seeing clips of him at Concert for Bangladesh and with Joe Cocker, as well as listening to his live record, I firmly believe that he must have been a monster in his hey-day. I was looking forward to seeing him in the intimate club setting of the Canyon Club.
Unfortunately, his hey-day seems to have passed. Since he is in his mid-60’s and doesn’t appear to be in very good health (he used a cane to walk to the stage), that’s understandable, but still sad.
He started off promisingly enough with “Delta Lady”, though I could tell even during this first tune that he voice wasn’t what it used to be. He trademarked raspy voice now simply sounds horse and he can’t hold notes like he used to or shout out his wonderful, wild, ecstatic shrieks. His female back-up singer and the bassist would hold the notes and fill things out for him. In fact, by the third song, the bassist sang lead on a basic cover tune and would do another lead vocal later in the set to give Leon a break.
The rhythm section and back-up singer were solid but not very exciting (especially considering some of the phenomenal talent he has worked with), though the young guitar player was pretty damn good. Leon could still pound the keys, though the addition of some extra synth sounds really were not necessary. It would have been nice to have seen him on a real piano, but the electronic keys really didn’t sound bad.
My other complaint was that despite his huge catalog he relied heavily on covers. Of course, he has always been known for some of his versions of other people’s tunes (most notably his incredible “Jumping Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley) but he has so many fantastic songs of his own that it was disappointing when he did basic blues covers, apparently as a respite.
He did do some of his greats like “A Song For You”, Out In The Woods”, “Prince of Peace” and “Stranger in a Strange Land”, though I missed well-known tunes like “Superstar”, “Tightrope”, “Masquerade”, “Magic Mirror”, “Queen of the Roller Derby”, etc. He started a powerful “Jumping Jack Flash” which quickly melded into “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and never returned, unfortunately.
I try to catch some of these legends every once in a while to see if they still have that spark in them despite their age but few can still pull it off. Although great rock’n’roll is timeless, rock’n’rollers tend not to age very well. I wish Leon the best – he was an original and a true great - but I can’t really recommend the current show.
Check out Leon's web site here