LIVE: Albert Lee @ the Strand Theatre, 1/9/19
Review by Don Wilcock
It reminded me of one of those scenes in a Dracula movie where the unsuspecting traveler stops at the inn and asks the inn keeper for directions to Dracula’s castle. The inn keeper grabs his necklace of garlic and looks through the stranger’s eye like a ray gun ready to fire and all activity in the room comes to screeching halt. Suddenly the pause button has shut down the whole room from slow motion to complete stop.
“Hudson Falls?” John looks at me over the top of his glasses. “You want directions to Hudson Falls?”
It’s six o’clock on a Wednesday night. I’m in the Excellent Adventures Comic Book Shop in Ballston Spa, and it’s like the owner, John, suddenly doesn’t know me. He can’t remember the last time he was in Hudson Falls, and he certainly can’t provide any insider’s back roads direction unavailable on my GPS.
His eyes are saying, “Why in God’s name are you headed to Hudson Falls on a frigid Wednesday night at 6pm?” But his mind is editing his comments. “This guy is a regular customer here. I don’t want to question his judgment. I’ve just sold him a 1969 mint copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine for $15 and a limited-edition copy of the new Torok comic book with a cover that features just the artwork and no writing for 10 bucks. Let’s not kill the golden goose here.”
I steer the conversation toward more important topics like when is the date for the next Albany Comicon, and then I circle back around. “George and I are headed up to see Albert Lee at the Strand Theatre. Ever hear of him?” Well, yeah, vaguely, he says. But he obviously knows as much about him as my mother knew about comic book master Stan Lee.
And that’s about as much as I expected would be the reaction to Albert Lee’s southern Adirondack appearance when I wrote the advance on him for Nippertown. So, we roll into town about 7:25pm, and this little theater-that-could is buzzing like a hive welcoming its King Bee. Cars are parked up and down Main Street, in an accompanying town lot, in front of vacant store garage doors, and we end up parking on top of an ice pack that crunches under the weight of the car in 20-degree weather with stiff winds.
I hand the woman in the box office my I.D., and she presents me with a ticket that you’d expect for a high school talent show. Printed on white bond is a photo of a grinning Albert Lee with the theater logo and “Weds., January 9, 2019 – 7:30pm – $25” printed across the bottom. No row or seat number.
The lobby is packed with people of all ages and description, but if I had to guess I’d say most were hardy Adirondack perennials. I’ve been in the theater before for Mylane Jackson’s Martin Luther King celebration last year and for a showing of a film I helped produce about my high school 50th reunion. Being the seasoned
concert-goer that I am, I quickly suss out that there are more than three times the number of people in the lobby than can fit in the orchestra seats. George and I make our way upstairs to a balcony newly reconstructed with fresh unpainted wood. There are easily three times the number of seats here as in the orchestra but people are filling them in like a Pacific tsunami.
We make our way to the top where the last few rows are white folding chairs. We sit behind a bearded young man wearing a sweat shirt with “blood” written in large red letters across the back. I can’t make out what the other letters read. Soon we get out of our seats into the aisle to let four people squeeze into the remaining four
seats next to ours. Turns out they’re from Saratoga. The guy is from a music store that lent the theater a pre-amp for the show and got comp tickets. He knows a bit more about Albert Lee than John. I tell him that Lee spent 12 years playing for the Everly Brothers. When Lee tells the audience about his 12 years with the Everlys, the guy nudges me. I’m now his bud.
The lights go down about 7:40pm. A slightly stooped Albert Lee, looking every bit his age of 75, saunters on stage with three other band members. Puffs of stage smoke cough up from the floor making me wonder for a brief second whether the place is on fire. The audience gives the band a warm welcome. And Lee expounds, “This is a great venue.”
And it is…
In an age when movie theaters look Regal, and amphitheaters get paid for naming themselves after newspapers and have corporate boxes that are appointed like private yachts, it’s great to go see a weathered rocker play a theater that fits him like a wet leather glove – playing to an audience hungering enough for live entertainment to come out of the mountains on a cold and windy Wednesday night in January to see a guy whose fabric is more fable than real.
We’ve become a society that gets much of its music through tiny white buds stuck in our ears streaming music chosen by an algorhythm. The irony is that these acts we listen to and think we deserve their music for free (because “the man” gets all the profits from recording anyway) cannot survive on recording sales, so a guy like
Albert Lee tours the world playing “great venues” six or seven nights a week around the world just to survive.
But the point is that these are the experiences that make the music real. You can’t get it from a headphone or a curved widescreen high definition TV. You gotta be there. Albert Lee’s concert WAS in a “great venue” for his music, and for two hours, the people in that theater were transported to the center of the universe. It didn’t
matter that I was seated in the nose bleed seats made out of folding aluminum. Here was guy who for 60 years – since he was 16 – had played guitar for Eric Clapton, the Everly Brothers, Bill Wyman, toured with Emmylou Harris and Cindy Cashdollar, and penned the hit “Country Boy” for Ricky Skaggs. Vince Gill calls him “one of the finest guitar players who ever walked this earth,” and in a month he will be touring Germany, Scandinavia and points east.
How does a guy like that live up to his resume? With finesse, baby, finesse. He’s a walking jukebox, singing and playing his way through the majority of recorded American music history. Yeah, I could have used his band being toned down a bit. But that’s like saying I want two sugars instead of four in my coffee. He did rockabilly, Clapton, Skaggs, Buddy Holly, Rodney Crowell and his own stuff. He was a time machine who took dates and shuffled them like pieces of puzzle and splayed them out at random. Biggest surprise? He plays piano, too, and sings like Jimmy Webb.
One last word. Don’t for one second think I’m making fun of the Strand. The sound was just fine even in the nose bleed seats. And the ambiance is as real as homemade sweet potato pie that the church ladies serve at King Biscuit Blues Festival in Arkansas except this is home-grown Adirondack real.