There were more grins, kisses and hugs onstage Sunday at the joint concert by Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Shawn Colvin and Bruce Hornsby at Shoreline Amphitheatre than at a family reunion. Nobody in the audience could have enjoyed the show any more than the musicians.
“Can these people sing or what?” squealed a delighted Bonnie Raitt. “As far as white people go . . .”
These four singers slipped in and out of each other’s songs with the ease and grace of the old friends they are. Rarely do musicians of this caliber collaborate this openly in public.
Browne was the first onstage. Colvin joined him to sing harmony on his “Everywhere I Go.” When Raitt and Hornsby strode out for the final chorus, the tone for the three-hour twilight performance was established.
Backed by a six-piece band that included David Lindley, always amazing on anything with strings, and Wally Ingram, a magician on percussion, Browne, Colvin, Raitt and Hornsby put their voices together and sang one another’s songs with palpable enthusiasm. They acknowledged the applause from the audience, but they were clearly playing for peer approval.
Raitt beamed like a proud sister as Colvin soared off into the second verse of Richard Thompson‘s “Dimming of the Day.” And Colvin’s face glowed as Raitt tore into the second verse of “Shotgun Down the Avalanche,” one of Colvin’s finest songs from her stunning 1989 debut (Raitt’s rendition may have been a little stronger than the author’s).
Lindley played fiddle, guitar, pedal steel, dobro and something that looked like an electric oud, and generally entertained the other musicians with his fabulous musicianship. He and Raitt staged a mock battle on slide guitars during “Thing Called Love.” By the end of the evening, Colvin was reduced to sitting backward on Hornsby’s piano bench, just watching like any member of the audience. And it was Lindley who led the group in the finale of the 20-minute encore section, a round-robin version of “Mercury Blues.”
Hornsby was one more sparkplug for the proceedings. If he wasn’t adding a strong harmony vocal or reinventing one of his own songs, he was playing accordion behind Colvin’s “Diamond in the Rough” or adding jazzy underscoring to Raitt’s plaintive “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
Each song had special touches: a vocal harmony, Ingram’s hand drums, guitarist George Marinelli‘s wah-wah mandolin solo. Or Lindley, once again, lighting the fire on Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” with a guitar solo that alone ought to win him a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But in the end, fittingly, none of the musicians stood out over the others. Each had supreme moments. They mixed and matched almost evenly. The collaborative mood prevailed so thoroughly, the triumph was all theirs to share. The audience was just lucky to go along for the ride.
Saturday’s concert wasn’t about promoting a new CD or the usual oiling of music biz machinery. It’s just about four talented artists that love music. Jackson Browne, Shawn Colvin, Bruce Hornsby and Bonnie Raitt, whose paths often have crossed on tours and in the studio while working on one another’s albums, have packaged their mutual admiration for a 22-show tour. “These are my favorite singers and songwriters in the world,” Raitt said in an interview with Browne, Colvin and Hornsby at NBC’s “Tonight” show studio before a recent performance. While it’s a dream date for singer-songwriter fans to see so much talent on stage for three hours, the foursome say it’s their chance to hit the road with people and music they love and respect. “It is like running away with the circus,” Browne said. “We’re leaving all the responsibilities and the hard-fought-for control that you have and giving it up to people that inspire you and challenge you.”
The tour, which begins Aug. 26 in Mansfield, Mass., and finishes Sept. 25 in George, Wash., grew out of benefit shows Raitt, Browne and Hornsby did together for Hurricane Mitch victims in December. They enjoyed themselves so much they decided to turn it into a longer gig. “We had such a great time,” Hornsby said. “Bonnie called me once a week for the whole month of January and said, `We have to do this. It’s too much fun, too much of a kindred-spirit feeling. We have to do this for real.”‘ They invited Colvin to join them, along with David Lindley, a longtime Browne collaborator. They’ve put together a five-piece band to back them and plan to perform a combination of one another’s music and some songs by other musicians. “It’s not like a Vegas show. This is four people playing in a living room, basically, and inviting 15,000 people,” Raitt said.
The opener, guitar wiz and musical eccentric David Lindley. Backed by equally quirky drummer Wally Ingram, Mr. Lindley spent 25 minutes displaying his love of polyester and mastery of exotic instruments. From there, it never stopped. At the close of his set, Mr. Lindley picked up a fiddle and was joined by Mr. Browne, whom he’d backed through most of the ’70s. The two men played a duet of the Appalachian ballad, “Fair and Tender Ladies.” Then Ms. Colvin appeared and the musical commune commenced. They’ll be trading vocals on one another’s songs, offering new takes on familiar material. “They’re like super versions of these songs because of the concentrated vocal power,” Browne said. “Some of my songs are just better than they’ve ever been.” The friendship and good humor they hope will characterize the tour showed through during the “Tonight” show rehearsal, when the four and their backing band broke into a playful, funked-up version of “End of the Innocence” — a Hornsby-Don Henley composition — and a semi-bluegrass take on “Amazing Grace,” complete with whoops and hollers.
All four said they were happy to back out of the leader’s spot and blend into a band. “Anything’s a relief if you do one thing long enough,” Colvin said. “If you play solo long enough then you get to play with a band, that’s a relief. If you’re with a band, then you get to play solo, that’s a relief. “If you do your own material constantly, then suddenly there’s a world of other people’s material that you admire and love open to you, what a relief. It’s great for me to be a backup singer and a rhythm guitar player.” They’ll be recording the tour and have talked about putting out a live album or video afterward. And Colvin said they even talked about extending the quartet’s travels to Europe, Africa and Australia. The group kicked around ideas for a band name in the vein of other super groups such as the Traveling Wilburys. In the end, they decided a name would have been too confining and would detract from “something as special as this,” Colvin said. Instead, they said, they’ve simply focused on the music and having fun with musicians they’ve long admired.
Next to the stellar Mr. Lindley, whose steel guitar remains one of rock’s most emotionally eloquent sounds, Mr. Hornsby was the night’s instrumental star. Rumbling though his blues shuffle with Ms. Raitt, “I Believe I’m in Love with You,” reeling off an extended piano solo to open “The Way It Is,” or pumping his Baldwin grand through the night’s first encore, his bluegrass arrangement of “The Valley Road,” he earned repeated ovations. Mr. Browne was a favorite of the boomer crowd. Looking no older than in his ’70s heyday, he did the title song to his best album, Running on Empty, and owned the place with the penultimate encore, the anthemic “The Load Out/Stay.” Mr. Lindley took the spotlight late in the show for a blistering “Mercury Blues” (Alan Jackson’s watered-down hit was a bad Lindley copy). Ms. Colvin shone on her “Sunny Came Home” and “Wichita Skyline.” “The combined history of these songs makes it such an unbelievable evening for all of us,” Ms. Raitt said, before snarling her slide guitar into “Something to Talk About.”
Well, Well, Well
Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies (Jackson w/David on fiddle)
Everywhere I Go
Down The Road Tonight
You And The Mona Lisa
Dimming Of The Day
Shotgun Down The Avalanche
Lost Soul (Jackson, Bonnie, Shawn, Bruce each took a verse)
Barricades Of Heaven
World In Motion
Thing Called Love
Nick Of Time (Bonnie – piano)
The Facts About Jimmy
Sunny Came Home
Night On The Town (Bruce solo on piano)
Your Bright Baby Blues
Something To Talk About
Diamond In The Rough
I Can’t Make You Love Me
The Way It Is (Bruce – long solo piano intro, then backed by band – no other ‘stars’)
Love Sneaking Up On You
Running On Empty -1st encore-
The Valley Road
The Load Out/Stay (Jackson – piano, ‘Sopranos on the video’, ‘…show in San Francisco’) -2nd encore-
End Of The Innocence
Black Muddy River The Band:
David Lindley – lap steel, saz, mandocello, fiddle, guitar
Wally Ingram – drums, percussion (cool set!!!)
Fritz Lewak – drums, percussion (Wally & Fritz switched sets for a few songs)
Kevin McCormick – bass(es, lots of ’em) (Fritz & Kevin are from Jackson’s band)
George Marinelli – guitar, mandolin (George was in Bruce’s original band, the Range, and now plays in Bonnie’s band)
John Thomas – keyboards (from Bruce’s touring band) Front Line:
Bruce Hornsby – piano, keyboards, accordion
Shawn Colvin – guitar, go-go dancing
Jackson Browne – guitar, piano
Bonnie Raitt – guitar, piano
Bonnie, Jackson Browne, Shawn Colvin, Bruce Hornsby, David Lindley
The Sensitive One’s – Red Rocks, Denver CO – Sept.12, 1999
1. Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies
2. Everywhere I Go
3. Down The Road Tonight
4. You And The Mona Lisa
5. Dimming Of The Day
6. Thing Called Love
7. Shotgun Down The Avalanche
8. Lost Soul
9. Barricades Of Heaven
10. World In Motion
11. I Believe I Am In Love With You
12. Nick Of Time
13. The Facts About Jimmy
14. Sunny Came Home
15. A Night On The Town
16. Your Bright Baby Blues
17. Something To Talk About
18. Diamond In The Rough
19. I Can’t Make You Love Me
20. The Pretender
21. Just The Way It Is (prelude)
22. Just The Way It Is
23. Love Sneaking Up On You
24. Running On Empty
25. Valley Road
27. Just My Imagination/
Saturday Night At The Movies/Reunited
28. Mercury Blues
29. The Load-Out / Stay
30. The End Of The Innocence
31. Black Muddy River
For finishing the hike with daylight to spare. For getting the lesson plan finished on time. For balancing the checkbook after a summer of winging it. For keeping cool in stand-still traffic on 65 mph speedways. This one’s for you.
Most of us couldn’t figure out just what we’d done to deserve an end of summer treat like this. We showed up wondering how five headliner musicians could possible fit in enough full sets between 7:30 and the 11 p.m. curfew to make the evening anything more than a highlight reel spliced between changing stage sets. The answer came in the decision to play one super set with the five musicians acting as one dream band.
In a unique departure from other jamfests, guitar summits, nostalgia tours, or twin-billed extravaganzas with token collaborations, this gathering was more about friendship, musical admiration, and the love of a good song than anything else.
It’s too easy to simplify the evening and think of it as a study in harmony, but there was a different emphasis to this blending of the voices. Rather than an orchestration of tight vocal intervals, the joy on stage and out among the rocks was in hearing the voices of friends sharing each other’s songs.
There are few stages better suited for such a gathering of the tribes than Red Rocks Amphitheater, especially on a crisp night when summer suddenly makes its exit and the rocks positively glow with an autumnal amber. Though “Cold Shot Colvin” joked about snow flurries in the audience, and Raitt used the plummeting temperatures to demonstrate her quivering, shivering impression of Stevie Nicks, the musicians took ample opportunity to heat up the audience with plenty of upbeat rockers.
The artists took advantage of the two-day layover to mount a Webcast with the support of the House of Blues. Bonnie Raitt cautioned Internet users to “cover your kids’ ears, there’s no telling what’ll happen,” relishing the opportunity to be broadcast without having to watch what they say for a television audience.
Jackson Browne with Bonnie Raitt – Red Rocks, Denver, CO 9-12-1999
“Mostly we’re going to be singing a bunch of songs that we’ve all been waiting a lifetime to sing together,” Raitt told the crowd before launching an achingly tender version of Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” with Hornsby and Colvin accompanying her. “Kind of nice not to just have to do it for one night,” she added.
The month-long tour gave the musicians time to really play together, rather than come out for a couple power-packed demonstrations. Raitt and Lindley traded guitar leads all night, with Raitt claiming that “one of the reasons I got together with these guys was so me and Lindley could finally play some slide guitar together.” Hornsby was the musical backbone of the night, however, ubiquitous in his subtle backing of the others or mind-blowingly textured and intricate in extended solos on stretched out versions of his own songs like “A Night on the Town” and “The Way it Is.”
The sincere absence of egos made it possible for Jackson Browne to relegate himself to back-up singer on Shawn Colvin gems like “Jimmy,” or to take the stage as designated percussionist for a Bonnie Raitt chestnut like “Thing Called Love.” Likewise, Raitt didn’t mind putting her searing slide guitar aside and warming her hands tapping the tambourine on any Browne number from the reggae-tinged “Everywhere I Go” that provided a joyous opening to the show to one of the ultimate encores of all time, Browne’s late ’70s ode to the road, “The Load Out.” Colvin spent her off-time honing her Solid Gold dance moves in the background, or tirelessly “Running on Empty” while her cohorts mined their musical heritage. Colvin even took a turn on the triangle during “The End of the Innocence,” one of six encores for a perfectly sated audience that made no secret of their aim to stay, just a little bit longer.
The Perfect Attendance awards went to David Lindley on slide, lap steel, violin, bazooki, and guitar and Bruce Hornsby on grand piano and accordion, neither of whom left the stage for more than a couple of songs all evening. At one point, the awestruck Browne told the crowd if he wasn’t on stage, he’d be out there in the audience soaking it all in, and true to his word, Browne never ventured farther offstage than a perch behind the drum set where he could revel in the songsmanship of his friends.
And what a showcase for songs. With each artist contributing a handful of selections from their own songbooks, the air was pretty rare as the ensemble moved from “Shotgun Down the Avalanche” to “The Pretender,” from “Nick of Time” to “The Valley Road.”
With such an elite corps of songwriters, there wasn’t too much room for honoring their peers, but the artists stepped back for the final encore, paying homage to Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter with a beautiful rendition of “Black Muddy Water.” With the a blood-red backdrop of dripping rock, the ensemble let the evening come to a close like a warm campfire shared by friends finally allowed to burn out at the end of a long summer’s revelry.
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