I've always passed on Havens through the years, thinking he was just an odd hippie/folk singer who got famous from the Woodstock movie, and that he must be ancient now. WHAT A MISTAKE!
I decided to go to this show specifically because it was at the Kuumbwa; a tiny jazz club that's packed at 250, so I figured this would be the perfect place to see a coffee house folk singer.
I have no idea how old Havens is, but he looked GREAT, his guitar playing was excellent and his voice was deep, strong & powerful; unexpectedly there was no feeling at all that I was watching an over-the-hill guy. At one point he even did a scissor kick!
He had a guitar player with him from the start who was EXCELLENT, supplying sharp, tasteful leads and beautiful accompaniment to Havens hard driving rhythm guitar, and about halfway through the set a cello player came out, and that REALLY made the sound complete, adding a bass component and a more rich, full quality to the sound. Too bad she wasn't there from the beginning because as a trio this was a GREAT group!
As I said, Havens voice was RIGHT ON, and once he finally began singing his greatness was immediately obvious. The problem for me was that at least on this night he fancied himself a storyteller and he talked (rambled) for 10 minutes before he even started playing music, and then chatted between songs through-out the show.
In general I have a couple of problems with this type of thing; first, it was the early show of a two show performance, which means the event was "on the clock" and because of the late arriving crowd he came onstage 10 minutes late, so I felt this talking was taking up valuable time. Secondly, I NEVER really like talking from musicians at shows (one of the MANY things I loved about the Dead!). For me it often kills the mood and shatters the continuity of a show. I find this most often at bluegrass shows, where humorous chatting between EVERY song seems to be part of the homey culture of bluegrass, but it ALWAYS bugs me. I don't mind a bit of banter, but KEEP IT SHORT!
The other problem on this night was that he was talking about politics and "his generation" through-out the show, and that precious, self-congratulatory "we changed the world, MAN" 60's mentality gets old with me fast; but since the crowd was almost completely children of the 60s, they responded to it all with robust applause and "right on, man!" at every opportunity. For me, keep the politics OUT of the show! No question that Havens is charming, but I kept looking at my watch and thinking, "PLAY my man, PLAY!"
As I said, when he did play it was really, really great. Each song had an amazing vibrant energy; this was NOT "woe is me" quiet folk music, it ROCKED!
I can't remember every song, but he began with "All Along The Watchtower", did a GREAT version of Gary Wrights "My Love Is On Fire" (I think that's what it's called), a beautiful version of Joni's "Woodstock" and of course he finished his set with "Freedom". After yet another charming/rambling monologue he did an incredibly haunting version of "No More Turning Away" the (pretend) Pink Floyd song, as an encore. It was stunning.
The thing about his music is that he never plays the songs in the traditional way, so it takes some time to recognize them; his unique interpretations of the songs are brilliant and make the listening fun and the music fresh.
The show ran a total of 1:20, but he really only PLAYED about an hour of music, so I was left feeling that I didn't see enough. I was close to staying for the second show, but I thought that it would again be too much talk, not enough ROCK!
I will definitely see him again, but next time I'll be ready for his ways & I won't be as distracted by the stories between songs. I would like to see him play a show that didn't have an early and late sitting; there would be more time for music, and as I've never seen him before it's possible that he was just in a chatty mood last night. Anyone ever seen him? Is this his usual MO?
Whatever, even though I was left with an incomplete feeling, I loved the music, the group and him; he is a special talent and should definitely be seen!
amen my man.
nice review, thanks!
love the Kuumbwa.
I was thinking about the saturday show in San Francisco, but I ended up at the roller derby instead, definitely less political ranting there
love the kuumbwa too! i've only seen richie once, and he was real strong...i won tix to see him at the gamh in SF. He absolutely radiates an amazing energy. and he's got the biggest friggin hands ever...check how he plays and like bars w/ his thumb! i gotta see him again soon!
>>>but I ended up at the roller derby instead<<<
Now THERE'S an eclectic choice!!
Richie Havens..... or Roller Derby!
I bet you missed a great show at the Brava Emily, I hope the Derby was rockin'!