TVD Live: Leon Russell at the Hamilton, 2/11

As the opening act prepared to take the stage, the announcer reminded the audience that, though the venue is a restaurant and bar, we were about to see some “tender” and “intimate” moments. As would any good cynic, I scoffed. Who really uses the word tender?

An hour later I was crying. As the band exited the stage, a single bright spot fell on Leon Russell, and he sang “Song for You” with, yes, incredible tenderness. The audience, which was largely composed of people who have clearly been fans since the ‘60s and ‘70s, was rapt as Mr. Russell removed his sunglasses for the first and only time that evening and poured himself into his most famous song.

The evening was full of gorgeous moments, including hearing Mr. Russell’s cover of “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones and the gospel hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” Sitting in front of his white, custom-made, baby grand piano, while wearing all white, with his white beard, and under the white spot, a man behind me whispered that Mr. Russell was a “cowboy angel.” As incongruous as the comparison is, with his gruff stage presence and rock-and-roll hair and beard, it is impossible to argue with the statement—his performance was at times ethereal.

This is not to say the evening was ballad heavy or slow. Perhaps the best moment of the evening occurred during Mr. Russell’s performance of “The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen.” Reaching the lyric “Just myself and forty friends/In the name of Cocker power,” the audience screamed along with him “COCKER POWER” in a tribute to Joe Cocker who passed away in December.

The set list was a mix of Leon Russell originals and covers of songs popularized by others. It is a testament both to Mr. Russell and to the audience that the original songs performed by Mr. Russell were received with just as much fervor, if not more, than better known tunes such as “Georgia on My Mind.”

The three-man band playing drums, keyboard, guitar, cello, pedal steel guitar, and assortment of other instruments backed Mr. Russell perfectly, complementing the piano and Mr. Russell’s gravelly vocals.

Hidden behind beard, hair, cowboy hat, and sunglasses, notoriously taciturn, and transitioning seamlessly between songs without pause, the first words he said to the audience were “Thank you, goodnight.”

Opening the evening was Cris Jacobs, a local artist from Baltimore. While initially I found him pleasant enough with his “blue jeans and a beard” style of acoustic guitar country-cum-folk-rock, Jacobs truly shined on his cigar box guitar and charmed the audience with his original track, “Be My Stars.”

In all, a dedicated audience, a solid opening act, and great supporting band made for a memorable evening with a spry old rocker who has by no means lost his honky-tonk.

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  • MSB15a

    Thank you for the review. Lots of folks spin the word “icon” or “legend”, but Leon Russell IS the history of rock and roll in human form. Looking forward to seeing him in March.

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