Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cocker's gruff vocals entice fans

Veteran rock singer Joe Cocker performed at
the Island Resort and Casino in Harris last weekend,
showcasing his uniquely gritty vocal style.


Rock 'n' roll singer Joe Cocker demonstrated his unmistakable vocal abilities during two shows at the Island Resort and Casino in Harris last weekend.

The veteran performer, born in the northern England steel town of Sheffield, tore through a 16-song set spanning four decades.

My wife Sue and I watched in awe from the third row during the May 9 concert.

Cocker led an impressive eight-piece band which included Laurie Wisefield (guitar), Mike Finnigan (Hammond B3 organ), Nick Milo (piano), Norbert Fimpel (sax and congas), and Nichelle Tillman (vocals). The rhythm section was anchored by bassist Oneida James-Rebeccu and drummer extraordinaire Kenny Aronoff, known for his appearances with John Mellencamp and John Fogerty, among others.

During the 90-minute program Cocker, dressed in black, mesmerized the audience just as he had at the Woodstock Music Festival in August, 1969.

Known for his wailing interpretations of songs written by others, Cocker gave especially powerful renditions of his songs, considering he'll turn 65 on May 20.

"Hitchcock Railway," an album track from Cocker's second long-player, opened the show, with the band instantly finding a groove behind Cocker's sandpaper vocals. Aronoff was quick to show-off his muscular drumming technique which has made him a well-known session player. Cocker's physical delivery included pounding some keys on his "air organ."

Cocker rolled-up his sleeves and got down to business with "Feelin' Alright," a track composed by Dave Mason and contained on Cocker's first album, "With a Little Help From My Friends," released in 1969.

The iconic performer followed with "The Letter," a Top Ten hit from 1970's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" disc. Milo and Finnigan dished out some tasty keyboard work to accompany Cocker's gritty singing. "The Letter," was first made popular by the Box Tops in 1967.

Next, Cocker reprised a trio of hits from the 1980s.

"When the Night Comes," written by Bryan Adams, reached number 11 for Cocker in 1989. The live version included an intriguing guitar solo by Wisefield, a former member of Wishbone Ash.

Cocker's sole chart-topper followed. He smiled when the crowd recognized "Up Where We Belong," a duet he originally performed with Jennifer Warnes. The song appeared in the 1982 movie soundtrack for "An Officer and A Gentlemen."

Tillman soared as Warnes' replacement for the concert version of the hit, composed by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jack Nitzsche and Will Jennings. The audience showed its approval with a standing ovation.

"Shelter Me," released in 1986, included an appealing sax solo from Fimpel and a few well-placed screams from Cocker.

"You Are So Beautiful," a ballad from 1974, drew renewed attention to Cocker's raspy vocals. The tune, from Billy Preston's catalog, earned Cocker and the band another standing ovation.

Cocker picked-up the with pace with a stunning version of the Beatles' classic "Come Together," recorded for the film "Across the Universe." The propulsive number was one of the highlights of the show.

Andy Fairweather Low's "Hymn For My Soul," title track from Cocker's 2008 album of the same name, followed. The compact disc includes cover version of songs written by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Stevie Wonder and others.

Cocker returned to the 1980s for "You Can Leave Your Hat On," written by Randy Newman. The song was featured prominently in the motion picture "Nine and One-Half Weeks" and lured women from the venue's seating to the front of the stage.

Since Cocker readily acknowledges the influence of Ray Charles in his vocal style and stage mannerisms, "Unchain My Heart" was especially striking. Charles made the song a hit in 1962.

After a lengthy intro, Cocker and his band-mates delivered a frenetic take on "With a Little Help From My Friends," another gem penned by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The song was Cocker's first hit and featured the guitar work of Jimmy Page on the studio version.

On stage, Aronoff's wild drumming and Cocker's patented screams packed the classic song with an excitement just hinted at in the Beatles version. Cocker ended the number with four jumps. On the last leap, he flashed the peace sign with both hands, then left the stage.

For the encore, he belted out Leon Russell's "Delta Lady" and gave his lungs a work-out with a third Lennon-McCartney tune, "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window." Both tracks were from his self-titled 1969 album. Cocker returned to 1970 for a heartfelt performance of "Cry Me a River," originally a hit for singer/actress Julie London in 1955.

During a second encore, Cocker put a soulful stamp on "Long As I Can See the Light," a John Fogerty road song released by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1970. "Put a candle in the window, 'cause I feel I've got to move. Though I'm going, going, I'll be home soon," Cocker sang.

Cocker, however, won't be getting home in the near future. He's currently on a lengthy North American tour and remains a popular concert draw in Europe and around the world. While other people his age may be retired or wishing they were, Cocker is obviously still enjoying himself on stage.

So, it was a pleasant surprise when the singer left cheering fans with a pledge: "I'll come back some other time."

No comments: