Saturday, November 10, 2018

Leslie West

To be honest, I haven't been having the best couple of months. As I've mentioned, there has been a lot going on at home lately, and it's been getting me down. A couple of times lately, I've had concert tickets that I've decided to eat, and plans to go out for live music that I've blown off on the day of the show. I was supposed to go into the city a while back to see Frankie Cosmos. Anyone who reads this blog on any kind of a consistent basis knows that I don't really like going into Manhattan anymore on the best of days, so I don't know what I was thinking. (Actually, I guess I was thinking that I really like the new Frankie Cosmos album, and I doubt they'll be playing Long Island anytime soon.) Anyway, come the day of the show, and predictably, I decided to pass. (It helped that the ticket was only about 15 bucks.) A few weeks prior to that, I had been also supposed to go into the city to see 888. But that time, the band blew me off, and cancelled the show a day or two beforehand. Which was probably for the best.

Then, a few weeks ago, the folk singer Kate Campbell was supposed to play that Stony Brook concert series that Charlie Backfish of WUSB promotes. I bought a ticket, and right up until the last minute, I intended to go. But a funny thing happened. That Sunday afternoon, everyone was out of the house. And as I ran around doing errands beforehand, the thought suddenly popped into my head -- what if I didn't go? I had her new album, and I wasn't loving it. And the idea of having a peaceful house to myself started to grow on me, especially since I was in the middle of that Haunting of Hill House series on Netflix, and if I didn't go to the show, I could just relax and binge watch the rest of it. As it turned out, it was probably a good thing I stayed home anyway. In the middle of my Hill House marathon, my house's smoke alarm went off, and a bunch of police officers showed up at my house, followed by a bunch of fire fighters who I think might have kicked my door down if I hadn't been there to let them in. (It was nothing -- my boiler must given off a burst of smoke or something. But it scared the crap out of me.)

Then, a week or so ago, I'd been hoping to go out to Bartini's to catch an old friend, The Kevin MacLeod Band. I don't remember exactly what was going on at home that day, but by the time I was done dealing with it, I wasn't going anywhere. (Apologies, Kevin.)

So what I'm saying here is that I'm not exactly functioning at optimal level. And it almost happened again today. I saw the tickets for Leslie West go on sale a few months ago, and figured it would be my last chance to see him. Unfortunately, there's one Saturday every month where I have to get up early and drive into Queens for a staff meeting for my job, which usually leaves me useless for the rest of the day. And somehow, I bought the tickets without realizing it was the same day as that staff meeting. To make matters worse, I must have slept wrong last night, and by this morning, my back was all out of whack. I was hunched over like a human question mark. So very quickly, I started asking myself, "Do I really want to go to this concert?" And if you'd have asked me this afternoon, I'd have told you probably not.

However, after a mid-afternoon nap, my back felt better. And unlike the Frankie Cosmos show, the tickets to see Leslie were 75 Great Fatsby's! Plus, the show was at The Boulton Center, perhaps my favorite venue to see a show. So in the end, I sucked it up and went.

Am I glad I went? Well, no. And yes. It was a mixed bag.

There was no opening act tonight. I got there about 7:45PM, and although I had bought an aisle seat, I wound up sitting next to another hefty gentleman like myself. It wasn't great for my back, and I know I was squashing him. But as the crowd came in, it was obvious that it wasn't going to quite be a sellout, and there was one lone seat with space on either side in the handicap session that seemed to have the lights of heaven over it, with angels flying back and forth around it. I quickly asked the usher if it was sold, who sent me to the box office. And since they ascertained it hadn't been sold, they said I could have it. This was a win-win -- it was a clear win for me, because I now had a comfy seat with a space next to me to put my stuff on the floor. (And although I didn't notice it until the end of the night, I wound up seated right next to John Blenn.) And I guarantee it was a win for the other guy, who got to spread out and enjoy the show.

Then, shortly after 8pm, the announcer came out, followed by the band. Leslie is in rough shape these days. He lost a leg to diabetes a few years ago, he's gained a bunch of weight back, and he's in a wheelchair. He still seems to be in pretty good spirits, though. He had two bandmates for the show, Rev Jones on bass, who I was especially impressed with, and Bobby Rondinelli (of The Blue Oyster Cult and Rondinelli, among many others) on drums.

Here's the thing, though. Leslie is 73 years old now, and he's worse for the wear. He complained through most of the early part of the night that he couldn't see because of the bright stage lights, and when his band mates or anyone else tried to talk to him, it was pretty obvious he can't hear very well either. (No surprise after all of those years of playing loud hard rock.) He was never, to me, a great vocalist anyway. But now, he doesn't have the wind to really belt much out. And while some of the songs went off pretty well, there were a few that he kind of forgot, and noticeably butchered (the most egregious of these, unfortunately, being "Nantucket Sleighride".)

He did tell a couple of good stories, though. He had a brief question-and-answer session where he sent his wife (who's a good three decades younger than him, but I forgave her the whole trophy wife thing because from my seat, I had a good angle to see her on the side of the stage singing along happily with every song like a true fan) into the crowd with a mic to take questions. Poor Leslie, however, could mostly not hear or understand any of the questions, either when the crowd member asked them, or when his wife repeated them. But one question led him into discussing doing recording sessions in New York for the Who's Next album. He had some choice things to say about Who manager Keith Lambert (apparently he had the best dope ever), as well as about Keith Moon (eight dimes short of a dollar, or something like that.) And that led to a story about his brother (who is still Alvie today) overdosing at one of Leslie's concerts when he was very young and having to be hauled out in an ambulance.

There seemed to be a lot of filler, though. Besides the Q&A session, there was also some time killed by a bass solo, a drum solo (one of my least favorite '70s traditions), and even a guitar solo by special guest Teddy Rondinelli. And the set ended at 9:30pm, so it wasn't that long a show to begin with.

My highlight of the night was the band's version of "Theme for an Imaginary Western", which they did a pretty good job on, and the requisite closer/encore, "Mississippi Queen", wasn't bad either. For their part, the crowd was with him all the way, obviously loving him sincerely, and filling in the gaps in the music that was actually played with the music from their memories.

So was it worth it? I guess the show itself was worth about a $35 or $40 ticket. And maybe it was worth the rest just to check him off of my bucket list. I left the theater feeling kind of sad, though. Father Time is a real bitch.