I'm continuing to try to get as much music out of summer as I can, since fall will be such a deluge of work. This week that effort resulted in a very strange pairing of experiences.
My friend M. has had attending a Tom Petty concert on her bucket list of things to get done in life, so Wednesday night we went to see him at MSG, a place I certainly don't go much. It was an honest-to-goodness big-time, old-fashioned rock concert, also something I don't do much. Legendary bluesman Buddy Guy opened with a 1-hour set. I really liked his playing but I probably could have followed his guitar line better at a slightly lower volume--deafness tends to defeat music appreciation. After a half hour beer break for the crowd (more on that later), Tom & The Heartbreakers came on for a 2-hour set. Considering the triple-digit ticket prices, at least you get a lot of music for your money. They really played 3 sets-within-a-set: Mid-tempo greatest hits (crowd on feet, swaying, singing along); songs from new album Mojo (crowd in seats, talking among themselves, texting); up-tempo greatest hits (crowd on feet, either dancing and singing along or jumping and screaming, possibly depending on beer consumption). Musically, Tom (with or without the band) has always been part of the essential radio background to me, but I've never bought a CD. Being forced to pay careful attention, I was struck by how closely his success is tied to following the tried-and-true rock-and-roll formula. 6 guys on stage: drummer & bass keep time, keyboard adds texture, THREE guitars take the spotlight. Just like in the 70's. So maybe it shouldn't come as such a surprise that Mojo sounds less like Southern rock than one expects, and more like Led Zep. (Cornbread Zeppelin?) He comes by the influence honestly. The crowd, which had come to hear the hits, didn't quite know what to make of it, but, having been prepped by a fair amount of airplay on WFUV, I was ready and actually kind of like the change. It's nice that after all these years and all this success, they still feel the need to branch out. Of course, all of it, new and old, was executed with high energy and completely professional musicianship. This is a very polished band. A free download of the album came with admission, so I'll be listening more. Speaking of the crowd, it was like a reverse Wizard of Oz moment. (Toto, I don't think we're in New York anymore--maybe it's Kansas.) In any event, did I mention that they sure liked beer? I've seen less of it sold at hockey matches. M. and I have decided we need to see Bruce and U2 next.
Quite coincidentally, I had bought tickets to see Richard Shindell at the Rubin Museum
on Friday with M. and her husband, months before Tom Petty got on our radar. I had never visited the Rubin before. Suffice it to say here that as a museum, a concert venue, and a place to go on a Friday night, it is utterly unique. I'll review it separately in the Venues forum. The auditorium holds about 200 people (possibly an overestimate; flat seating, raised stage) and there is no amplification--totally acoustic show. It was sold out for the show, which lasted an hour and a half. Richard accompanied himself on guitar and was joined by Marc Schulman on guitar, mandolin, dobro, and several other things; and Lincoln Schleifer on upright bass. This was about as close to the classical chamber music experience as I've come in a folk singer-songwriter show. All three musicians were masters of their instruments and their interplay was superb. The acoustics were eerily good, and the crowd was pin-drop silent during songs. Richard had a request list that he used, but mostly kept away from his most familiar songs. Considering that my last hearing of him, about 2 years ago, was essentially greatest "hits" (and was electric, and was accompanied by the Americana band Ollabelle), this show was a total, and welcome, contrast. Adding to the effect, the museum invites the performers to select art from the galleries that fits the setlist, and it's projected behind them as they play. Richard used this very effectively; said he changed some of his set to fit the art, even. The current temporary exhibit is titled Remember That You Will Die, and there's no problem finding songs in Richard's catalog dealing with death and loss. His closer, Transit, one of the few songs to make both this show and the last one, was played in front of a projected painting of a hot Buddhist hell (apparently they have cold ones too), which I had seen in the gallery before the show, that changed to a painting of a radiant Buddha at the end. If you know the song, that makes total sense. The crowd was clearly mostly familiar and adoring, but banter was far less than at, say, a Vienna or Dar show. Richard just isn't as chatty, but he did give some useful song backgrounds and engage in a little interplay with the crowd. He was clearly pleased to be wished a happy 50th birthday by a fan between numbers--the birthday having been mentioned on the radio that morning. All in all, a really memorable show in a place I am going to want to go again and again.