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I'd had the lead line composed for weeks--"It's a tribute to Faces that they've been banned from all the country's Holiday Inns. They're that kind of band." But I never saw the show. Because I never got my tickets. And I never got my tickets because Roger Liveset at Warners was out of his office every time I called, every day, for a week. And he doesn't return calls. This may be a college newspaper, and a summer school edition at that, but we do get read. Have a little sympathy, and some taste, big shots.
Tickets are easier to come by for the Sunset Series concerts, so I was able to see Loggins and Messina, with the Mahavishnu Orchestra at Boston Common on the 21st. Kenny Loggins, with Jim Messina, as they are show precisely at six, and it was instantly evident that this is nobody's backup net. Loggins and Messina are as good a rock band as any that's come out of California in a long time. Their strength lies not so much in virtuosity us in versatility.
The Sunset Series show made up for a cancelled gig with Van Morrison in May and was a special trip East for the band. Their stage show highlights their broad talents. Kenny Loggins opens with a short acoustic set. He sang "Danny's Song," and "House at Pooh Corner," the sum total of his previous reputation, to a still-entering crowd. Loggins' voice is equal parts country twang and Elton John, and his performance of these songs was simple, as befit their accompaniment.
Once the rest of the bano appeared the songs were infused with country influences. Al Garth, one of the hornmen, played country fiddle quite well on "Listen to a Country Song," and "Dixie Holiday" was performed as only a country rock band would perform a country style song, with an emphasis on bounce. Throughout the set the band's Springfield-Poco influences became evident. Loggins and Messina play the same kind of joyous country rock that Poco is able to succeed so well at. There are no frills, and yet, there's a feeling that this band has much more range than Poco. It's the horns. Garth and Jon Clarke add a new dimension to the music. The aren't strong jazz artists, but the fact that they weren't onstage trying to blow Coltrane licks ultimately worked to their advantage. They were never prominent in the live mix, but they added occasional embellishments to a decidedly unembellished music. And when they did, their contributions were both fresh and tasteful, like the guitar-sax phrase traders in "Lovin' Me," and the chorus on "Peace of Mind," with its slightly mournful, gospel tinge. Clarke played a pretty flute transition between "To Make a Woman Feel Wanted," and "Peace of Mind."
There were two distinct highlights. The first was a basic 50's 12 bar treatment of a song called. "Your Mama Don't Dance (and Your Daddy Don't Rock and Roll)" that featured one perfect mid-chorus sax lick, a perfect maybe four note frill. This one also had a baritone sax solo, and a final chorus that couldn't be denied. "Vahevela," introduced as "the three day version," followed, song draws on the increasingly popular music of the West Indies. The considerably extended stage version exploits the rhythms of the West Indies in a long purely percussive break, anchored by Mexsina's chopped chords played through a wah-wah pedal, and numerous straight percussion. Al Garth followed with a fiddle break break that was equal parts acid guitar solo and pure country fiddle. Messina's lyrical wah-wah solo took the song out.
After a lengthy delay, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, featuring John McLaughlin, appeared. McLaughlin is one of a handful of followers of an Indian spiritual leader named Sri Chimoy. He believes in the intense spirituality of is music; he believes in fact that he is merely a medium, that Sri Chimoy actually plays all the music. Regardless of who's playing the music, the effect of the Orchestra is an intensely uplifting emotional experience.
Further technical problems included the exchange of McLaughlin's entire bank of amplifiers: problems with the organ's main amp, its Leslie tone cabinet, were confronted, and solved. Then, 30 seconds of silenced. Then, thunder, the massive chords of "Meeting of the Spirits," four of them, as though to alert the heavens that the show had begun. The piece's theme is finger-picked, on the 12 string neck of McLaughlin's double-necked Gibson. From there the group's soloists explored the theme's possibilities.
In each of the pieces, "Meeting of the Spirits." "You Know You Know," and "Dreams," the structure is similar. The emphasis at all times is on spiralling speed, not speed as flash (that's best left to the Alvin Lees and Johnny Winters) but speed with taste, leading to a spiritual experience for the artist, and perhaps for the listener. The effect is that the intensity of the music sucks the listener skyward.
McLaughlin is a master at this. He attacks the music on its most spiritual level: that is his reason for playing. His notes are choppy and quick, and he plays in phrases. This style is adopted by Jerry Goodman the violinist. Goodman exploits his instrument's traditional use as a lilting, lyrical stringed instrument, and also the complete range of options opened when the violin is electrified. Therefore he's able to play both lyrically, and acidly, and he can also use the violin as a rhythm instrument under McLaughlin's guitar. Jan Hammer, the keyboard man, plays the piano in the same style, with short, choppy notes, and an emphasis on phrases.
Onstage, the Orchestra emphasizes all these techniques, adding to them the use of increasingly complex tempos with frequent changes. The result is music composed of an initial theme, over which each member plays short phrases, or frills, over that theme, or a variation. The continued emphasis is on speed, and on ensemble playing: guitar-violin, or guitar-violin-piano, resulting in a fusion of musical minds that is spiritual. Above all, each member exploits the possibilities of his instrument to the fullest.
The focal point of the Orchestra is the drumming of Billy Cobham. He plays loud, and hard, and joyously. He owns a special kit of clear fiberglass drums: they are louder than any set I've ever heard. Cobham plays full till throughout the set, nearly two hours in some cases. He plays under each soloist, so he must know their intricacies. He can fellow the complexities of tempo, and rhythm changes, as though he were telepathic. I, for one, am sure he is. His showcase was the finale. "The Noonward Race," Every time McLaughlin had an idea, or made any sort of musical move, Cobham was there, waiting. He heard the idea, reacted, assimilated the idea, and was able to act on his own, with the correct lick, all instantly. His solo stressed changes in intensity, power, and tone, rather than mere flash. Throughout it, he built to peaks then retreated, all within the framework of the piece's tone. He is masterful.
It is difficult to write of the music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It is eminently music that must be experienced, to be appreciated. An awful lot of bands purport to be completely different, or more powerful onstage, but I suspect only Mahavishnu really is. It was supposed to rain that Wednesday evening. It didn't. I'm half convinced that John McLaughlin was responsible.
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