The concert at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre was billed as “Jeff Beck & Paul Rodgers and Ann Wilson.” Based on that punctuation, I wasn’t sure if Jeff Beck was performing with Paul Rodgers, or Paul Rodgers would be on stage with Ann Wilson or if they were going to be three separate acts. It turned out to be the latter, plus one more.
Let’s start at the beginning.
We had bought our tickets less than a week before the show when I got an email from Ticketmaster offering discounted seats in the section closest to the stage for just $29 (plus another $11 in rip-off fees, of course). I bought two on an aisle, and we were all set.
After writing last week about how annoying it is when bands don’t come on stage at the scheduled time, my wife and I planned to get there just a few minutes before 7pm, the start time listed on our tickets, fully expecting to have to wait around for a half-hour. But two days beforehand, a work colleague who was going to the show told her he’d gotten a text announcing that showtime had been moved up to 6:35pm. That seemed unlikely to us because I hadn’t gotten any such text, and it seemed like an odd time to begin. So, we stuck to our plan.
There is usually a thirty-minute traffic jam on the roads leading to the venue’s parking lots, but we were happily surprised to breeze right through and pull into a space at, yes, 6:35pm. No wonder the last-minute tickets were so cheap — this concert was going to be far from sold out. As we exited our car and walked towards the amphitheatre, we could hear a band with a female singer on stage, and my wife got a text from her friend saying he was already inside and, indeed, the concert had just started. Still, we were in no hurry, and by the time we walked across the lot, passed through security, and made our way to our seats, it was 7:01pm — and Ann Wilson was starting her first song!
Apparently, they had added Deborah Bonham as an opening act to do a quick 15-minute set. Incidentally, I assumed she was the daughter of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, following in his footsteps like his son, Jason. Wrong! Deborah Bonham is John’s sister, born 14 years after him, and has been making music since 1985. We saw none of it, though.
Wilson’s first tune was The Who’s “The Real Me,” followed by “Barracuda,” a 1977 hit she recorded with sister Nancy in their band Heart. That was the only Heart tune she performed, though, because the sisters had a major falling out two years ago after allegations that Ann’s husband had attacked Nancy’s twin teenage sons. Forced to choose between her husband and sister, Ann hit the road alone with what is now basically a classic rock cover band, albeit with one of the great female voices of all time out front. Her set included covers of “Your Move” (Yes), “You Don’t Own Me” (Lesley Gore), “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (The Who), and “Life In The Fast Lane” (The Eagles, which sounded wrong without the guitarist playing Joe Walsh’s famous riff throughout). Most of them will be on Wilson’s upcoming album, “Immortal.”
Next on stage was Jeff Beck, who tore through a combination of instrumentals backed by a bassist, drummer, and cellist (who was barely audible next to his searing guitar work). Beck is one of those high-speed guitar gods (like Carlos Santana — review here) who’s been around since the sixties and lets his instrument do all the talking — he barely said a word, allowing vocalist Jimmy Hall to handle a few songs in between. The highlights of Beck’s set came at the end: “‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” from his 1976 “Blow By Blow” album, and covers of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” and The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.” For his encore, Beck closed with a rousing rendition of “I’m Going Down,” the classic he originally recorded in 1972.
After the roadies reset the stage for the third time, Paul Rodgers came out with his band, Free Spirit. I saw Rodgers with Bad Company at the same venue two years ago, but this night he alternated songs from that band with one he’d been in earlier called Free (no, he didn’t do any songs by the band Spirit like “Nature’s Way”). Rodgers has always owned one of the great male voices in rock and roll and I’m happy to say he still has that same powerful, bluesy growl. Unfortunately, on about half the tunes, he encouraged the audience to sing the chorus and some of the verses. When you are one of the legendary singers in rock history, why force me to listen to the 3,000 amateurs sitting on the wrong side of the lights, like it’s Crowd Karaoke time? That’s not what I paid to see!
Still, my wife (who was one of those happy to sing the songs) thought Rodgers was terrific, a good capper to the latest in our continuing series of Concerts By Performers Over 60 Who Can Still Rock.