Monday, April 12, 2010

Concert Review: Leon Redbone at the Dakota


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.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had the same experience with Leon about 6 months ago. I've seen him live since the late '70's and his shows were always great -- if not eccentric. And he always had great musicians playing with him. It sounds like you saw him during the same tour that I did -- one lonely piano player who looked like he'd rather be somewhere else. And Redbone told so many lame jokes, stopped and started songs and garbled his way though others, that I actually couldn't wait for the show to get over. When he repeated a song he had played ealier, I actually got up and left. I believe he was drunk, and perhaps due to a pretty small crowd, he was probably phoning in his performance. It's sad. I hope it's temporary. But based on this dreadful performance, I will have to really think twice about seeing him again -- something I never thought I'd write.

Holly A Hughes said...

Interesting review -- you really captured the capricious nature of this performance, so I felt as if I'd been there. Funny, I was just thinking about Leon Redbone the other day, wondering what he'd been up to. This review convinced me I haven't been missing anything.

Anonymous said...

Wished I had read Mark’s review before I forked over good money for Redbone tickets for a concert in Kirkland, WA one year after Mark’s experience; and I purchased them seven months before the concert, so I eagerly anticipated it for quite awhile. I love Redbone’s music--laid-back, sleepy, and bordering on parody, which can be dangerous: You go too far and you just demean the music.

Tonight’s 8:00 concert got underway at 8:35 because Redbone “wanted the house temperature brought down.” He complained about the temperature on and on through the performance. He complained about the lighting. But worst, he spent just as much time tuning his guitar as he did performing--I mean, after every song. I assume at this stage of his career he would be able to tune a guitar. He seemed forgetful and didn’t seem to have a playlist--or perhaps that’s what he threw in the wastebasket. He played the same song twice. Yep, the jokes were inane. It sounded almost exactly like the concert Mark describes, but one year later.

It was a relief when it was over, and I think no one in the audience had any desire for an encore.

kenny said...

I second the anonymous comment.

I was really looking forward to this concert but, it was disappointing to say the least. The couple sitting next to us loved it and kept singing along (off key) and clapping. It was extremely distracting since Leon did not sing very loud and it was hard enough to hear him without the racket next to us.

I would have been happy to put them out of their misery with a Taser had I owned and brought on along. I may have used it on myself as well if I could have timed it to coincide with the end of the concert.

I could go down to the park at Pike Place Market if I wanted to her some one mumble and ramble aimlessly rather than pay good money.

gene said...

Leon Redbone at KPC, Apr 23: What a boring, insulting evening...was he drunk, or just lazy and arrogant? I had been a Leon Redbone fan for thiry years, and was thrilled to finally see him in person. An incredible dissapointment. Apparently he does this same thing at other performances also, based on other reviews. We would have left in the middle, if we hadn't been sitting in the middle of a long, narrow row--no reason to annoy the audience even more.

Anonymous said...

I attended Leon's concert last night in Kirkland, and it was excruciating. A long-time fan, I purchased tickets months ago and anticipated a great evening. Instead, I found myself trapped in the middle of a theater I couldn't escape, listening to the pathetic ramblings of a drunken performer who couldn't tune his guitar. The songs he did manage to perform gave a glimpse of his talent, but were overshadowed by repeated attempts to tune his guitar and excuses about "not being well." It was a sad and depressing night. His terrific accompanist, Paul Asaro, deserves a better gig than this.

Anonymous said...

Even if I had read everyone reviews, I wouldn't have believed them. Not THE Leon - he who gave 150% of hisself in the 80's somewhere up in north Jersey. In Treton (2011) he was the ultimate scam artist. $42 for 1 hour of drivel. Maybe 5 songs. And he just lives across the river! He had a pianist with him who was ok and a guy who played the Tuba, tenor sax (sexy sax) and an upright bass (this guy was good and it didn't take much for him to steal the show). Can you spell disappointment? We calculated that he walked with $5000 miniumum that night. For doing nothing. He should have stayed home and did word finds sitting n his recliner. Better yet, I should've stayed home and did the word finds! HRMPH!

Mark said...

That's really too bad that so many people have had the same bad experience with Leon that I did. Maybe he just doesn't care anymore. Weird.

Carla F said...

Saw him at the Iron Horse in Northampton MA last night. Originally scheduled last March, it was postponed til last night. That show just made me mad and it's nice to fine like minded people sharing their views. I was annoyed at his "did I tell you that was a sing-a-long" after every freakin' number. And when he said "ok, what have I played, what's the next number..." I felt like shouting "look at the set list!" Why did I go to this show? I was invited and my ticket was paid for. Prob one of my least favorite shows ever. Lameness.

Anonymous said...

Just saw him in Bloomington, Illinois 2/9/2012. We walked out after a miserable hour. I wish I had read these reviews before I spent good money on this drivel.

Anonymous said...

I too at Bloomington IL performance last evening. He actually said at beginning of his show: "Well.. I hope you didnt have to drive to far".. Then went on to the same type of repetitive painful performance described above where he rambled on about singalong songs, complained about lighting, sang Diddy Wah Diddy twice, wasted time doodling around on guitar between songs, did partial parts of a couple songs, he sang first 2 verses of Champagne Charlie and stopped abruptly which even caught pianist Paul Asaro off guard. It must be aggravating to Paul having to demean himself playing with such an ass every night. The pay must be good. It was disturbing to see that 1/2 the audience clapped and hooted for an "encore" I did not and I certainly wish I had my $50 back.

Anonymous said...

Redbone struck again at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA on March 31, 2012.

Couldn't get the guitar in tune..."hope you didn't travel too far".

Luckily, Paul Asaro was great...especially when Redbone turned the show over to him while he tried to tune the guitar.

If if think of it as a Redbone show, it's disappointing, but if I think of it as an Asaro show with occasional accompanyment by Redbone, it was great.

Mark said...

Ugh, that's too bad that so many people are still having the same bad experience of Leon in concert. He should just hang it up if he doesn't care anymore. But maybe he needs the money.

Anonymous said...

Like others have said here, I wish I had read your review before going to see Leon last week at the Cedar Cultural Center (Minneapolis). Your post is from 2 years ago, but it accurately describes the show I saw too. At first, I thought his mentioning about wanting a "Sing-Along" song was a funny commentary on how no one seemed to know the words of what he was singing. But after, oh... the 58th time he mentioned it, the charm was long gone. Like at your show, there were people in the audience who really thought every single thing this man said and did was the most HILARIOUS thing they have ever seen. Though, this is something I've noted at other shows too... it's some bizarre fan reaction where the audience member wants, soooo badly, to believe they are sharing a "moment" with their idol.

During the night, Leon kept asking the piano player what song he should play: 90% of the time he would follow it up with "Is that a Sing-along song? Oh, that's a good one. That's a good sing-along song. What key is that in? F? F... for Failure." Funny the first time, not funny after repeating it half a dozen times. It would have been all the forgivable if he would have followed up the joke by playing the actual song. Unfortunately, that only happened a few times. Instead, he'd repeat a few bars on his guitar of some other song that was in his head and then the whole process would start over again. I didn't count how many songs he actually started and finished, but I would make a guess that it was about 10 songs (that lasted about 3 mins each) over a 2 hr period.

The songs he did manage to complete, were lovely. He's a great guitarist and a wonderful singer... In fact, I think it was because of these brief moments of actual musical performance that I felt so disappointed about the overall show: they were tiny, infrequent reminders of how amazing the night could have been.

vilstef said...

These little reviews in the comments have cured me of ever wanting to see him in concert! I can stay at home and be bored or angry. I'd love it if I could see C W Stoneking, an Australian singer who is sort of the bastard son of Leon and Tom Waits.

Anonymous said...

Just saew Leon Redbone with Paul Asaro at Hugh's Room in Toronto and was appalled at the unprofessional "performance". The highlight was Paul Asaro on piano whose talent is totally crushed here. Paul deserves a much better gig than this. I resent paying for an event like this and am amazed that folks still fill the room to hear him.

Anonymous said...

Saw Leon Redbone at The Ark in Ann Arbor last night. Same show everyone else described down to the "sing-along" line, the "Key of 'F'...for Failure..." and he played an encore that was truly an encore, he played "Sheik of Araby" a second time. I suspect that the encore occurred because someone told him that he hadn't made it over the one hour mark where his contract said he'd get paid. So he played a song again. I saw him in 2003/4 and he was better then.

Anonymous said...

He doesn't care about performing, the audience, the songs, or even trying to give the people their money's worth. He was actually funny at one time when he had the trumpet player sitting next to him. Can't remember his name, but he really played great and was funny as hell too. Sorry he's gone, but after seeing his show since then, we couldn't blame him one bit. If I wanted to hear a babbling drunk, I could have spent that $70 for 2 tickets on a couple of bottles for myself, stayed home and watched videos by performers who still care about music. Not some mumbling drunk scam artist who needs a name tag to remember who he is...or was. Buyer beware!!!

Anonymous said...

I was hoping my experience if a few years ago was unique, and might be explained by an off night, but sadly this doesn't seem to be the case. Speaking as an enormous Leon fan of long standing, this is immensely disappointing. Maybe he's suffering from dementia...

Anonymous said...

He's not suffering, it's the good people who get scammed out of their hard earned money to pay to sit and watch him drink his "medicine" as he calls it onstage while he tunes his guitar and plays "Beat The Clock". He kills time for an hour then takes the money and run. It's not dementia, he's a booze soaked has-been who thinks he can still fool all of the people all of the time. We hadn't seen him in 10 years, and like everyone else here..thought it was a bad night. Reading the other comments makes you realize it's been a bad decade..at least. The only saving grace to that farce of a show he puts on is the piano player, who is amazing. But we will never spend another cent to see this lush amuse himself on our money. Here's a suggestion Leon. Why don't you take the money that you scam from your audience and buy a guitar that will stay in tune? This way you'll have more time to repeat the same songs and jokes a few more times. No wonder he hasn't made an album in over 20 years, he drank his talent away...sad. Time to give it up, you must be rich enough by now to buy your own distillery.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I found this site. I bought 4 tickets to see his "show" as a surprise for my mother's 83 birthday. He was 20 minutes late getting onstage, started playing around pretending to tune his beat-up guitar, and it was 15 minutes before he finished his first song. I guess he thought a few late comers missed it, because he did it again 2 songs later. Same as the other comments. It wasn't even pathetic, it was an insult. He finished his drink, had the piano guy do a solo and he returned with his glass full again. I counted 8 songs that he completed that entire show, and about 5 that he started and stopped because he couldn't remember how the song went. Even most of the songs he did finish had spots where he would mumble the lines he couldn't remember. With dinner it came to over $300 for the four of us. My mother was actually in tears on the way home, sorry I had spent so much for so little. You're a real class act Mr. Redbone, and no longer the "Mystery Man". There are many much better players who actually care about their performance. He should be made to watch himself onstage these days on video. It's horrible and PLEASE..don't waste your money!

Anonymous said...

Wow. I wish I had read this blog before I went to see Leon perform. He does a great job with the guitar, but you can't understand his lyrics and he spends virtually half of the show bantering with his piano accompanist and trying to decide what to play. He did the same song twice in the first 20 minutes of the performance. Sad to see.

Anonymous said...

Whomever it is still trying to squeeze the last few cents out of this pathetic has-been should really be ashamed. This has to bee one of the saddest things I've ever seen on a stage. If you handed him a crayon, he'd probably eat it. They will probably have him playing in front of a subway entrance soon, so they can still get money out of him. Really sick..

Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that Redbone has retired from the music business. I bet it wasn't easy to drink away that much talent. I'm still sorry I saw one of his last shows last year. It was simply pathetic, and to make matters worse, we were sandwiched in the center aisle of a tiny theater and couldn't get out without the entire row having to stand up. But we lucked out as so many other walked out that we didn't have to stay to the end. Painful doesn't describe it.

Anonymous said...

Leon didn't drink away anything - ever. He has early onset alzheimers/ dementia & you are all assholes. Way to show you loyalty and respect to someone who gave everything they had over the years - and when he becomes sick&down you kick him. You should be ashamed. Way to show some serious ignorance -Leon never did drugs and hardly drank. Another case of opinions based on lies. Sorry you spent money? You should be sorry you spent your time pecking out hate notes to someone who spent their whole career being awesome.

Colleen Peirce said...

Yes, I have been a loyal follower of Leon since the 70s and I believed I was seeing onset of dementia in his last few concerts. I just wish this had been said when he retired. I hated seeing all the negative comments. Dementia is hard to recognize some times and it can occurred in the early 50s.

Mark said...

Colleen, thanks for your comment. I wish Leon's family or his manager would have said something more about his health condition when he retired too. That would have explained the quality of his concerts in recent years. But that shouldn't take away from how great he was at his peak.