Review by Charlie Weintraub
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
If you believe in “fate,” then you can begin to explain Leon Redbone. The Universe decided it needed somebody to keep alive music from the early years of the 20th century, and thus was born Mr. Redbone’s successful career. When people hear the name, a lot of them don’t recognize it or can’t place it; but when they hear the voice they inevitably say, “Oh, yeah … I know him.” Such is the mysterious existence of Leon Redbone.
Playing to a decidedly older crowd – which filled 2/3 the capacity of the 450-seat Swyer Theatre at The Egg – Redbone enchanted and delighted with his own brand of humor and his intricate guitar playing. Taking the stage wearing his trademark Panama hat and shades – and that man can wear a hat – at 8:40pm, his first words were, “Good morning.” He has a very different sense of humor – one that his fans enjoy hearing almost as much as Redbone enjoys uttering. Redbone purposely also has a dark side which came out with the quote, “Life is full of disappointment, then you die.”
The smaller setting of the Swyer Theatre was just right for the occasion, and if anyone came expecting to see a light show to rival Pink Floyd, they were disappointed by the single lamp on a table next to Redbone’s chair that provided most of the lighting for the stage. Similarly, if anyone expected the guitar-smashing antics of the Who, they, too, were disappointed, as Mr. Redbone never did move around much at all.
The next hour and 20 minutes was a throwback to the days of vaudeville and the songbook of then-popular American music and timeless humor. The crowd didn’t seem to mind his joking about being in Albania instead of Albany; nor did any Hungarians rush the stage when he came down hard on them – all in good fun. The audience was whistling and singing along at his encouragement for several of the songs.
Perhaps the only negative to the evening was Redbone’s over-use of the phrase ‘sing-along.’ This has been a trend in his recent performances and after the first dozen or so times, it ceases to be funny. But that was not enough to lessen the audience’s enjoyment of the evening. As he flowed from one song to another (13 plus one encore song – the requested “Shine on Harvest Moon”) he interspersed his comedic lines, some guitar strumming, partial song snippets and some repartee with his pianist Paul Asaro. On “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” Redbone displayed his talent on the harmonica – a surprise to many.
Adding immeasurably to the evening was the much-appreciated, incredibly talented Asaro, who provided piano accompaniment. Asaro also performed two solo tunes: “Blueberry Rhyme” and “Fingerbuster.” The former was well-received; the latter blew the crowd away with both hands flying. Puzzling was the fact that he had his back to the audience the entire evening, which prevented really seeing and appreciating the manual dexterity he exhibited. I tried to picture a better angle for him to be positioned, but I couldn’t.
Opening the show was Bo Jest the Kosmik Konjurer, a magician who has the same love for the older history of his craft as does Mr. Redbone. That old-time magic set the tone for an evening of old-time music. The magic was mediocre but adequate, and it actually seemed as though the audience enjoyed Jest’s storytelling more than the magic.
On this night, though, it was not the magician who provided the magic, but the musician. And if you know Redbone’s body of work, you’ll understand when I say, “Hey Leon, this Bud’s for you!”
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
LEON REDBONE SET LIST
Polly Wolly Doodle
My Blue Heaven
Blueberry Rhyme (piano only)
O Susannah, Dust Off That Old Piano
Mr. Jelly Roll Baker
Fingerbuster (piano only)
Someday Sweetheart (piano only)
My Walking Stick
I’m Crazy About My Baby
I Ain’t Got Nobody
Shine On Harvest Moon
Sweet Mama, Papa’s Getting Mad