By Joel Francis
Stevie Wonder, Starlight Theater, June 27
One day after the shocking death of Michael Jackson, Motown legend Stevie Wonder took the stage before a packed Starlight Theater to both grieve and celebrate his old friend. Wonder’s songbook and the scarcity of his performances – he last played Kansas City in 1986 – already guaranteed a special evening. The timing made it historic. Keep reading….
Bela Fleck, Uptown Theater, April 2
Banjo legend Bela Fleck ditched his band the Flecktones for a half dozen African musicians he encountered on his musical adventure across the continent. The three-hour showcase not only exposed the audience to artists they likely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to experience, but brought the performers to the nooks and crannies of America. Keep reading ….
Sonny Rollins, Walton Arts Center (Fayetteville, Ark.), April 16
Saxophone legend Sonny Rollins marked his first performance in the state of Arkansas by reminiscing about radio host Bob Burns, aka the Arkansas Traveler and crowing about his idol, native son Louis Jordan. In between stories, Rollins and his four-piece band made transcendence standard with extended performances of chestnuts like “In A Sentimental Mood” and newer material. Keep reading ….
Leonard Cohen, Midland Theater, Nov. 9
Leonard Cohen knew that most of his biggest fans had never seen him in concert and that this tour would be their only chance to experience him in person. Accordingly, Cohen, 75, generously packed his three-hour concert with all his big numbers – “Hallelujah,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” “Everybody Knows,” and about two dozen more – some album cuts and one new song.
Helping Cohen through this immaculate musical buffet was an impeccable six-piece band. Javier Mas’ performance on bandurria and 12-string acoustic guitar frequently stole the spotlight. His playing added new shades and textures to the songs and his solos were always breathtaking. Reed man Dino Soldo was also impressive on clarinet, sax, harmonica and other wind instruments. Three backing vocalists, including Cohen’s longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson, helped smooth the rough patches in Cohen’s gravely baritone.
The adoring, sold-out crowd marinated in every moment, cheering at choice lines and raining ovations on the surprisingly spry singer as he skipped and hopped joyously around the stage. Cohen may have been forced back on the road for financial reasons, but both he and his audience delighted in celebration.
Sly and Robbie, Folly Theater, June 6
Lee “Scratch” Perry, Beaumont Club, August 30
This summer was a great time to be a reggae fan in Kansas City. Jamaican visitors included two biological sons of Bob Marley, and several metaphorical ones, including Toots and the Maytals, the reconstituted Wailers and Matisyahu. Pioneers Sly and Robbie and Lee “Scratch” Perry were the season’s bookends.
Sly and Robbie, veterans of literally hundreds of reggae recordings, kicked off the unofficial summer of reggae with nearly two hours of rumbling riddims at the Folly Theater. Nearly three months later, the eccentric and prolific producer “Scratch” Perry kept a small Beaumont Club crowd waiting for hours, before finally appearing with a psychotropic set of Bob Marley numbers he produced and originals like “Roast Fish and Cornbread” and “Pum Pum.”
Jimmy Cobb, Gem Theater, October 17
As the last living performer from Miles Davis’ landmark jazz recording, Jimmy Cobb left a crowded Gem Theater crowd feeling anything but kind of blue. The drummer and his five-piece So What Band celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Kind of Blue” by playing all of its numbers, but treating the lauded original recordings more like an outline than a blueprint. When Cobb finally unleashed a drum solo more than an hour into the set, he was rewarded with the standing ovation he deserved. Keep reading ….
Pogues, Midland Theater, October 25
It took the renowned Irish acoustic punk band nearly three decades to reach Kansas City, and the groups notorious singer Shane McGowan wasn’t going to vacate the stage quickly. Alone onstage, the dying chords of “Fiesta” still ringing out, McGowan delivered a very inebriated, off-key version of “Kansas City.” A drink in each hand and cigarette dangling from his mouth, McGowan finally shuffled off to whoops and cheers.
The rest of the Pogues, recently reunited and sober (with one exception), have learned to live with these incidents. It’s probably safe to say a good portion of the crowd showed up because of them. Both the morbidly and musically curious had plenty of cause to be glad. After his only face plant of the evening, McGowan replied with aplomb “That’s why they call me Mr. Trips.” Overall, though, he was in good enough shape to deliver great versions of “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” “Dirty Old Town” and “Bottle of Smoke.”
Despite suffering from a muddy mix, the rest of the band held up their end of the bargain, especially accordion player James Fearnley who ran and slid around the stage like Bruce Springsteen at the Super Bowl and tin whistle-ist Spider Stacy’s percussive beating of his head with a cookie sheet during “Fiesta.” The McGowan songbook was augmented by the traditional Irish numbers “Irish Rover” and “I’ll Tell Me Ma” and late-Pogues number “Tuesday Morning.” There were a few stones left unturned – “Fairytale of New York” was missed – but more than enough good moments to justify the wait.
Alice Cooper, Ameristar Casino, August 8
Alice Cooper’s theatrics aren’t as shocking as they were 30 years ago. What is shocking is how captivating and entertaining his stage show remains. Cooper’s adventures with the noose, guillotine, iron maiden, hypodermic needle, wheelchair, guns and swords mesmerized a fist-pumping, sold-out audience who sang along to every syllable of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and nearly every other song in the set. Keep reading ….
Raphael Saadiq, Voodoo Lounge, March 13
While not officially tied to the 50th Anniversary commemoration of Motown, Raphael Saadiq’s 75-minute concert in front of a pitifully small crowd at the Voodoo Lounge was an homage to old-school soul, complete with David Ruffin’s horned glasses, tight suits and choreographed dances. The best aspect, though, was that all the music was new and original material written by the former Tony! Toni! Tone! frontman, much of it drawn from his incredible album “The Way I See It.” Keep reading …