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Concert Review: Leon Russell at 8 Seconds Saloon, Indianapolis, IN 4-14-2006

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Leon Russell put on quite a good show on Good Friday, from what you could make out of it. I was glad to see him in action.

Inevitably though, this will be more of a review of the venue and concert experience than of Leon. Overall, this was one of the very worst experiences I’ve had seeing a show. Indeed, the 8 Seconds Saloon near Washington and Lynhurst on the west side of Indianapolis may be the very worst venue in which I’ve ever seen a show.

First off however, the scheduling of this was inexcusably screwed. We were sold tickets to see Leon Russell at 7 pm. In fact, Leon didn’t play until 9:30. That’s 2 1/2 hours of my (and everyone else’s) time absolutely wasted in a crappy bar. Now, if there were technical problems or a rain delay for an outside show, that’d just be life in the big city. But they never intended a 7 o’clock show. They put on an unbilled opening act at 8 pm, intending Leon for 9 pm.

That last half hour might be blamed on Leon, but the rest of it goes somewhere else. I don’t know whether that should be on Ticketmaster or on the venue itself. I still intend on billing them for my wasted 2 1/2 hours as soon as I figure out to whom I should make the invoice.

One outfit NOT responsible for the bad schedule was the opening act. The Whiskey Brothers were standing on stage with their instruments waiting to play for several minutes before 8 pm. They’re a pretty well known band locally. I’ve heard the name for years.

Frankly though, they suck. In fairness, they can play their instruments (for however good you could make out through the venue acoustics). They played some reasonably athletic licks. They were tight.

But their songs were just crap, compositionally. They lack personality. Basically, they’re playing generic electric blues, somewhere in the range of Stevie Ray Vaughn or Lynyrd Skynyrd. But there’s nothing whatsoever distinctive about their style or ANY of their songs. There was nothing there that could have even been mistaken for a hook, and I couldn’t quite remember how any of those songs went even while I was listening to them. But at least they were on time.

Did I mention that the 8 Seconds Saloon was perhaps the worst place I’ve ever seen a show? When I say worst, I’m including Holiday Inn bars and ill-maintained college dives. Starting on the minor end of complaints, the place was pretty dirty and stanky. It’s supposed to be a country bar, but they had fuzzy dust bunnies instead of tumbleweeds blowing through the air. Also, they were charging $6 for some nasty excuses for margaritas, which were apparently being served out of a fricking slushy machine.

My main bitch, though, was the sound. I’m not that picky about acoustics. I just want to be able to hear the songs. Sometimes I’m dissatisfied with the sound in a big stadium or arena, but rarely would I beef about a little place like this. I’m guessing the maximum capacity here would be maybe 500 people. Yet somehow, they have acoustics so awful as to defy description.

They seem to have bad acoustics, but it’s somewhat hard to tell because they just had everything so absolutely stupidly ridiculously loud. If I hadn’t been with other people, I would probably have left quickly for my ears’ sake. Besides being dangerously loud, the volume and acoustics made such a combination that you could hardly make out what they were playing.

There’s certainly no way you could have made out much of what anyone was singing all night. I could barely parse out a few lines of standards such as “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” to which I perfectly well know the familiar words. This might not would be so bad if you had some ham-handed Motley Crue blasting away, but good luck trying to pick out the nuances of Leon’s keyboards.

From what I could make out through the fuzz, Leon and his band put on quite an excellent show. This band has skillz. They’re individually skillful, but more importantly lock together to make a strong groove-creating whole. I especially appreciated the vital presence of his girl singer Jaime Babbitt, whose innate sensuality and energy kept front and center stage moving while Leon sat quietly in the corner doing his thing.

Now, there were at least a couple of arrangements that I just wasn’t buying. I’m to understand that his arrangement of “Wild Horses” is pretty famous, but it sounded to me almost like disco. The thumping beat and cavorting didn’t seem to have anything to do with the emotional themes of regret and recrimination in the Stones song. Then again, maybe I caught it on a rough night, and/or I was losing it in the awful venue.

Given the over amplification and bad acoustics, probably the most listenable part was the quiet solo part two-thirds of the way through. Just Leon and the piano doing “A Song for You” rates as a high point.

But he came in for a big finish. He made a fine medley featuring “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” that had ‘em dancing in the aisles. I admit to only modest knowledge of Leon Russell, so it was something of an eye-opening experience to see gospel fire in this climactic segment. He worked up a most impressive Pentecostal fire. The audience seemed to be in on this without even realizing it consciously. The people moving down the aisles like an altar call, waving their arms in the air like they cared very much reminded me distinctly of the impassioned tent-meeting revivals of my childhood.

All in all then, I’m glad I got to see Leon Russell in action. He put on a fine show- for what I could make out of it. Maybe next time he comes through he’ll play somewhere decent. Note to self: Never go back to the 8 Seconds Saloon.

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  • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

    Al, gotcha. With all the things I have experienced in the music business world, the Leon Russell show you saw is part of the deal. What it comes down to is the 8 Seconds Saloon bought the show from Leon’s agent. Leon shows up to the venue and just thinks: “what the hell, they are paying me…” the artist will do shows like this in order to keep the tour working within the budget.

    What a drag the Saloon sucked so much. Venues like that can also make it a presentation that turns out to be awesome. Obviously they did not know how to run a show. The timing thing without announcing an opening act, etc. Lousy sound. I have had nights in small concert clubs when the sound was so awesome. And being right up close to the artist with the stage looking good.

    8 Seconds Saloon blew it. In general, a club will draw people to the venue for weeks off of one good show of a noted artist (Leon Russell for example). 8 Seconds spent alot of money that will keep people away, most likely, should the word get around about their presentation.

    peaceloveguidance

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Thanks Douglas. I’m usually fairly easy to please with sound in small venues like this. It’s a little tricky make a stadium sound good, but it’s not that hard to get half-decent sound for a few hundred folks.

    On the plus side, there were crazy storms in town that night doing serious hail damage to homes and cars within a mile of us as we’re driving home- and we missed all that severity. So, the sound system sucked, but we didn’t get killed by the weather. So it was good on balance.

    Plus, I did get to see Leon in action. That was worthwhile.

  • getoverit

    You obviously don’t go to many concerts. There is almost always an opening band and this venue is no exception or you just like to complain about anything which would be my guess. There was advertising regarding this concert many weeks in advance and apparently you heard what you wanted.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Getoverit, I sure wouldn’t be going to many concerts if they were all presented like this- dirty, horribly bad and ridiculously loud sound, and HOURS off schedule.

  • Mary Nell

    Leon’s show at 8 Seconds Saloon was fabulous (as always)! Thanks for the nice comments about Leon & the band, even if the venue sucks!
    Leon will be playing at “Uncle Fester’s House of Blooze” in Bloomington on August 12. Come on down and see him again! If you’ll find me (ask management), I will introduce you to Leon. Thanks again for the great review.
    Mary Nell

  • xatso

    This concert experience was repeated at Elkhart Lake, WI on 10/21/06. It is NOT the venue, it is Leon. I don’t think he cares.