Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Night at the Plaza

Leon doesn't have much to say, but he still puts on a hell of a show. So do some of his fans.

HSO piled me into the car and we drove about an hour into the capital city to check out the weekly Food Fest at the Empire State Plaza, hear a little Martha Wainwright and KT Tunstall, and see one of my musical favorites - Leon Russell. HSO saw him with the Mad Dogs and Englishman tour at the Fillmore.

"But I didn't really see it," he confessed. "I was backstage learning how to do lighting."

We both saw Leon this time. Up close. But let me back up a bit.

The Empire State Plaza, for those of you who've never been there, is really quite impressive. It was built by Governor Nelson Rockefeller about fifty years ago and, at the time, was considered a boondoggle. There are massive towers surrounding a huge marble plaza in which shallow, lighted pools glimmer, anchored on either end by the massive museum building and the Rococo beauty of the state capital. The state hosts a big party there every week during the summer. Food vendors line the sidewalks, the marble walkway (where I used to roller skate in younger days) is dotted with strolling visitors, and a bandstand is set up at one end facing the row of marble steps.

The first group we saw was a hard-rockin' bunch of guys called The Audiostars.
As we sauntered by, one of the guitar players caught my eye and nodded. This has never happened to me. There had to be a reason. I looked around, looked back and he nodded again. As I clearly looked confused, he mouthed HSO's name. all made sense. HSO had, in the few second this took, noticed and was smiling.

"Bobbie Van Detta," he said. "Great guitarist...sweet, sweet guy."

HSO knows everybody.

We shopped the vendors and decided to split a pulled pork sandwich and some concoction involving cheese and fried cornbread. Delicious.

Martha Wainwright was next. I saw her at Carnegie Hall with my daughter when Martha's brother, Rufus, did his historic recreation of Judy Garland's concert at Carnegie. David Bowie was in the audience that night but we didn't know. Martha did a full throttle, max volume, nervous breakdown number that brought the house down that night.

"I don't know if you'll like her," I told HSO, "but she's certainly a showman."

This set was mostly folk and her mom, Kate McGarrigle, played piano for her. Martha played guitar and has an interesting leg-lift thing she does when she plays. There's something about her I like, especially when she does torch songs. She did one this time. And closed with a loud, angry song she warned the parents wouldn't be appropriate for kids. It wasn't. But it was funny.

Then came Leon. He came out, sat down, and never spoke a word except "thank you." But he played a slick, amazing set that lasted more than an hour backed up by some amazing musicians. You can find out more about them at his website. Suffice to say, we stood right by the railing in front of him and were blown away. As were our ears.

But there was phenomenon I wonder about. Directly in front of us was a woman of ample girth and mature years who spent the entire set trying to catch Leon's eye. She'd point at him, she'd make motions indicating eye contact, she'd point again. She blew kisses. She bumped. She grinded (ground?). She shimmied, she boogied, she did everything she could to get his attention except take her shirt off. I am immensely grateful she didn't do that.

HSO, who brought a walking stick as the knee he broke last winter on an icy night when I expressed a craving for Oreos still bothers him when he's walking a lot, threatened to bean her with it. I was holding a water bottle and more than once had to repress the urge to hose her down.

When Leon left, she stayed behind...and started doing some of the same things to KT Tunstall when her set began. Huh.

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