Three very different shows, all entertaining
There’s more than one way to entertain an audience.
I saw three concerts over seven days last week. Each was thoroughly entertaining, and they couldn’t have been more different.
The first was Strand of Oaks at the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland. Strand of Oaks essentially is Timothy Showalter and whoever he’s collaborating with at the time. On his latest album “Eraserland,” that’s My Morning Jacket, which serves as his backing band on the record, which is one of my favorites so far for 2019.
I enjoyed the interview I did with Showalter last month, but the show was on a Monday night, I had a nasty bout of insomnia the night before and too much to do at work the next day since I was taking Wednesday through Friday as vacation time. If I hadn’t invited a friend from Cleveland to meet me at the Beachland, I probably would have canceled.
I’m so glad I didn’t.
Even without MMJ backing him, those “Eraserland” tracks dazzled. “Keys” has a dreamy, trance-like quality, reminiscent of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” “Hyperspace Blues” sounded like a jam band covering early U2.
“JM” from 2015’s “Heal” and “Forever Chords” from “Eraserland” reminded me of my favorite Neil Young and Crazy Horse shows, where the frontman and the band would lock in together and see where the musical journey would take them. Both songs swelled into something glorious, and the intimacy of the Beachland Tavern only heightened the effect.
Showalter was gracious between songs and he’s an animated player, but tiny tavern stage doesn’t leave much room for running around, and frankly, I don’t know if he would have been prowling the space even if it wasn’t so cramped. The emphasis stayed on the music and couldn’t have been better.
On May 9 I was back in Cleveland for Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls at the Agora Theatre.
The Agora show fell on the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of Frightened Rabbit lead singer Scott Hutchison (he was found dead from suicide the following day). Turner played Hutchison’s “The Modern Leper” in memory of his friend. If the anniversary had Turner in a melancholy mood, he didn’t let it affect his performance.
Turner is an absolute wild man on stage — and he doesn’t restrict himself to the stage. He bounded around every inch of the space, standing on monitors and jumping off drum risers as Turner and the band ripped through a 65-minute set.
The week before the Cleveland date, Turner was dropped on his back onto a concrete floor while crowd surfing. It didn’t stop him from doing the same in Cleveland and going back out a second time to form an impromptu dance floor in the crowd and give a woman a spin during “Four Simple Words” (those four simple words are, “I want to dance”).
With Turner, those antics are more than just shtick. Turner’s latest album, “Be More Kind,” is about forging a connection with others — even those we may disagree with politically or philosophically. Turner’s behavior on stage puts into action the words he’s singing.
At one point in the show, he encouraged the audience to sing along, telling those who knew the words to teach them to those who don’t. If nothing else, maybe you’ll make a new friend in the crowd, Turner said.
Turner’s live show is about taking a roomful of strangers and turning them into friends, at least for one night, at least while the music is playing. And if they can come together for an hour, maybe they can find common ground outside of the theater.
He maintains that mania and energy without sacrificing the music. “Recovery,” “I Still Believe,” “Make America Great Again,” “The Way I Tend to Be” and the rest of the 15-song set were as great as I expected them to be.
On Sunday, it was Tony Bennett at Packard Music Hall. I wrote a full review of the show that ran Monday, so I won’t rehash it here.
The quartet that backed him was top notch, but it was amazing to watch Bennett hold an audience’s collective attention so completely with just his voice and the way he captured the essence of the song he was singing.
I don’t know how many more chances I’ll have to see Bennett, who’s 92 years old, but Strand of Oaks and Turner both became personal live favorites last week.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at agray@tribtoday .com