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Sunday, March 31, 2013



Joe Weider
1919-2013 (R.I.P.) :: Hey, I didn’t see Stevie Wonder write a song about you a quarter of a century ago.

Stevie Wonder
– “Master Blaster” (Tamla/Motown) :: Marley, schmarley.

Leon Russell
Mad Dogs And Englishmen (A&M) :: “Don’t get hung up about Easter.”

Leon Russell
– “Roll Away The Stone” (Shelter) :: Exactly!

Live At Massey Hall (March 21, 2013) :: Whether it’s Kate Reid playing to half a dozen friends in a Folk Alliance hotel room or Elliott Murphy playing to thirty storm-soaked fans at the El Mocambo, an audience is an audience—and a true troubadour will gladly strap on a guitar and play to only one person with just as much sincere fervor as he or she will to a throng of thousands.

So when I saw a smiling Simon Townshend step out alone onto the stage of Massey Hall in front of a packed house of two thousand, armed with only a guitar, I knew that things were going to be all right—at least from the performer’s point of view. What I didn’t know is how utterly enthralled he’d have the audience after only one song.

Almost as enthralled, it seemed, was the singer-songwriter himself who paused after the first song to marvel at the fact that he was actually standing on the storied stage of Toronto’s oldest and most venerable venue. “Massey Hall!” he exclaimed in wonder almost to himself, smiling perhaps at the thought that he was treading across the worn boards that hundreds of thousands of other diverse musicians had in the past, going all the way back to such jazz greats as Charlie Parker and Lou Reed. Then again, who knows what had him showing off the pearlies because, if there’s one thing that Simon Townshend does a whole heckuva lot of, it’s smiling.

Hey, I’d smile too if I’d released an album like Looking Out Looking In, which is the long player that Simon’s currently touring in support of. Heartfelt without a fault, it’s a truly wondrous album with an emphasis on wonder. But let’s face it, anybody can put out a record when he’s backed up by bass and drums. It takes real guts, however, to perform chunks of that self-same album all by your lonesome and manage to pull it off—which, against all odds, is exactly what Simon managed to do during the dozen or so songs he essayed in less than an hour. Who’d a thunk it? Not me, that’s for sure.

But what really made for a memorable evening wasn’t the song set so much as it was the artist’s exemplary attitude. If I had a dollar for every act I’ve seen over the past fifty years that stood on stage with a stone face plastered on their waxen mug and phoned in their performance as if they were punching a time clock, I’d come back and buy this town and give it all, give it all to you.

The acts that still stick in my brain pan decades later are the ones that had a great time on stage and weren’t afraid to show it; unfortunately, the list isn’t nearly as long as I’d like it to be. Being professional is one thing. Being a showroom dummy is another thing entirely.

So when Simon Townshend smiles and tells a rambling joke about laundry and his mandolin; one that actually has a punch line at its end that gets a genuine laugh from the audience, well, that’s saying something. When he smiles and, without missing a note during the middle of a song, walks over to the foot of the stage and good naturedly says: “Sit down!” to a couple conspicuously taking their front row seats unfashionably late into the set—and gets a genuine laugh from the audience, well, that’s saying something. When he smiles between songs and good naturedly calls out: “Come back!” to a couple trying to make an unobtrusive early exit—and gets a genuine laugh from the audience, well, you know.

Then, as if all that wasn’t enough to foster some good will, immediately after the show ends he heads himself downstairs for an impromptu and informal meet and greet with anyone and everyone who wants to come down and say hello—whereupon for close to half an hour he stands smiling and signing autographs and smiling and posing for more fan photos than should be legally allowed; I lost count after the first 50.

And while Good Will may mean Good Business, that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’ve been around more than enough rock stars to know when they’re glazed eye faking it and when they’re genuinely pleased to be there talking to someone who thought enough of their music to actually buy a copy of it.

So after the last album has been signed and after the last photo has been taken, Simon Townshend turns around and there, loitering with intent, stands Yours Truly. We shake hands and I tell him how impressed I was at the fact that he was hitting every single high note with the greatest of ease—no mean feat when more than a few passages have to be sung in an upper register that would make even the toughest dog wince.

Then, putting a hand on his shoulder, I lean forward and conspiratorially confide: “You know, I saw your brother perform several times in the ’70s and he never had the voice that you do.” At which point he returns my gaze and does what comes naturally.

Simon Townshend smiles.

Be seeing you!
Sun, March 31, 2013 | link 

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