I don't like giving bad reviews. Life is too short to focus on the negative, and I would much rather use the limited power of my blog to champion artists I enjoy, rather than flinging arrows at artists I don't care for. That being said, I also feel like I need to be honest when I write, and not just blindly praise everything I read/hear/see. I have written some negative reviews on this blog, but honestly, a lot of them are reviews of pretty crummy Richard Burton movies. But I've also been critical of people whose work I usually admire, like Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer. Why this intro? Well, last night at the Dakota I saw one of the worst concerts I've ever seen. The artist in question is Leon Redbone, whom I like. I saw him in concert in 2002 and I remember it being a great show. He's a very talented guitar player, and he has his own unique style. Unfortunately, last night he was a caricature of himself. As I thought about it more, it struck me: Leon Redbone is really a performance artist. His whole persona is artifice, and you can never tell exactly when, if ever, the mask slips and you get a glimpse of the real person, whoever that might be.
Now I knew that I should expect a certain amount of shtick from Leon, I just didn't know quite how much we would get last night. From the time he walked out on stage until the time he started his second song of the night, fifteen minutes elapsed. Fifteen agonizing, boring, unfunny minutes. Leon complaining about the sound. Leon filing his fingernail. Leon playing the same riff on his guitar but not starting a song. Leon complaining about the lights. Leon wanting a "sing-along song." It was ridiculous and absurd. I understand now why people originally thought that Leon might be Andy Kaufman pulling another joke on people. Last night was Kaufman-esque in that Redbone seemed to be asking himself, "How far can I push this?" I like banter and jokes and goofing around on stage, but you have to be funny and you have to have a point. There are so many artists who put their whole heart into their art, and here's this guy coasting. Now, people have bad shows, I realize that. But compared to, say, John Hammond, who puts everything he has into every single song, Leon Redbone just looks lazy. Which is part and parcel of his shtick. And I get that. But you have to have an affection for your audience, and I don't get that feeling from Redbone.
While my Mom and I were thoroughly fed up with Redbone's antics, other audience members thought every single thing he did was funny. Which just proves that if you have the persona of being funny, sometimes you don't need to be actually funny. When Leon finally played some songs semi-seriously, he was good, but too many songs suffered from mumbled vocal lines. Maybe Redbone is finally showing his age. Since he claims to be the son of Paganini and Jenny Lind, he must be 170 years old at the youngest. Leon had a piano player with him, but he wasn't given very much to do, his main job was as Leon's straight man. All in all, it was a disappointing show. I was looking forward to hearing some laid-back 20's-30's ragtime blues, but I didn't hear very much of it.