Review: Lenny Kravitz at Temple Buell, 2/10/12
LENNY KRAVITZ @ TEMPLE BUELL THEATRE | 2/10/12
If you're lucky enough to be sitting in the first few rows of the Buell Theatre right now, you are no doubt losing your shit. Based on your tickets, you probably figured you'd have some pretty good seats tonight, but holy hell, this is ridiculous! You're virtually sitting on the stage. Lenny Kravitz is so freaking close that he's practically sweating on you... Check that -- he's now actually sweating on you, apparently.
Or he was, rather. Now, he appears to be climbing over seats making his way towards god knows where. Oh, sure, why not. He's posing for a photo, one that you just know will be making the rounds on Facebook tomorrow morning. "Cougars in the house tonight!" he proclaims, breathlessly, as he makes his way back to the stage. "I know you're used to seeing me with all those young girls, but I'm learning. I might go vintage tonight. Classic."
So, yeah: Losing. Your. Shit.
But while dude is clearly in rare form tonight, even from up here in the veritigo-inducing rafters, Quincy Magoo could've probably seen an envious display like this one coming. You'd have to be awfully aloof not to make the leap simply from assessing the situation and your surroundings. Pressing the flesh seemed inevitable. We all just figured it would be the other way around.
Why? Well, let's see, how about we start with the fact that there's no barrier in front of the stage to speak of tonight, meaning there's precisely nothing keeping the masses from mingling with Kravitz if the mood strikes. What's more, there's no intimidating looking buzzkill in front of the stage towering over the crowd, glaring at everyone with his arms crossed, just waiting for somebody to make even the slightest move in the wrong direction.
Well, and Kravitz himself more or less told us what he had in store at the end of "American Woman." Raising his guitar above his head victoriously, he marveled at the crowd and seemed genuinely stunned, commenting on just how good the vibe feels in here tonight and how good our weed smells (evidently, somebody's been blowing the most chronic of weed in his face, he'll later inform us). "What's going on in Denver?" he exclaimed.
"I haven't been here in a long time," he noted. "I can't tell if you've changed or if I've just forgotten. We've just started, and already the vibe is...what's the word? Magnetic. I just want to jump out there."
And, well, you know what followed a few numbers later. And so here we are, less than a third of the way into what will end up being a seventeen song set, and Kravitz has just wheeled out one of the evening's de facto ringers, "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over," a heart-rending ode from Kravitz's second record, 1991's Mama Said. Kravitz wrote this one when he was still married to Lisa Bonet, presumably as a declaration of his unwavering devotion to their ill-fated love, which, of course, later ended up being toe-tagged anyway.
As the opening strains play, we all naturally lose our goddamn minds and scream on cue like we're being measured by an applause meter. On the recorded version of the song, Kravitz sings with hopefulness and determination, repeating the lines "Baby, it ain't over 'til it's over," like a matra, as though he's trying to embed this notion in his lover's consciousness. There's a palpable sense of desperation in his voice.
These days, however, when Kravitz performs the song, you get the very real sense that he's moved on and the words have long since lost most of their meaning. As a result -- and perhaps this is owing to his place in life right now or the fact that he's been playing it for the better part of two decades -- the tune seems more like a paean than a lamenting ode of perseverance. It's clearly a showpiece at this point, and Kravitz performs it to the polished flair that you'd expect from someone who's been doing this for as long as he has.
These few snapshots actually make for a pretty fitting representation of the entire evening as a whole. Think we can all agree at this point that Kravitz's showmanship is unfuckwithable, as is his musicianship. Be that as it may, with the exception of some truly moving moments, most notably during the title track of his latest effort, Black and White America (we'll get to that in a moment), overall the set is devoid of a certain soulfulness.
Yes, of course this is an odd thing to say, especially considering that Kravitz has more soul than a cluster of sneaker factories. Even so, if you came to the show tonight hoping to have some sort a transcendent emotional experience, you came with what proved to be unrealistic expectations. This show's far more about spectacle and pivots on Kravitz relying on his magnetism and sex appeal rather than pouring out his soul (which perhaps accounts for the conspicuous absence of more affecting songs like "Can't Get You Off My Mind" and "Thinking of You"). Again, "Black and White America" being the exception.
After a dramatic extended intro worthy of "Distant Lover," in which a trumpet gently blares and the drummer keeps time with oversized mallets, a distinctive smoked-out early '70s vibe is created, by the time the shimmering keys enter, followed wah-inflected guitars and Kravtiz's voice echoing the song's chief refrain.
Next thing you know, Kravitz and company are in the midst of a spirited rendition of the song, whose lyrics reflect on the inequality his mixed parents experienced first hand and how far we've presumably come since then. As he sings about his father marrying a black woman in 1963 and how the couple were endangered just from walking the streets together, the lines are brought to life through childhood photos of the couple together flashing on the screen behind him.
Just the same, while there's some lulls in the set -- the mid-tempo doppelgangers "Rock Star City" and "Where Are We Running" sort of blend together after the fiery "Rock and Roll Is Dead" and suck some of the momentum out of the set, almost as much as the intermittent technical difficulties, like when Kravtiz's monitors appear to drop out at one point and he mutters something about not being able to hear the guitars -- he's hardly disappointing, and you'd be foolish, really, to complain about any aspects of this performance.
The projections are suitably dazzling -- particularly the glowing embers glinting during "It Ain't Over," the psychedelic fractals during "Fields of Joy" and the automatic weapon-wielding femme fatales during "American Woman" -- and the setup itself is rather interesting: The amplifiers are encased in pyramid-shaped displays that resemble those pyramid puzzles from the Reagan era, and the lights are likewise aligned into a pyramid and come to a point at the top.
One of the most fascinating things about Kravitz -- well, and the thing that has often caused him to be erroneously dismissed as merely a master of mimicry -- is how well he's absorbed his vast array of influences, and turned around and presented them in a vibrant way that somehow feels instantly familiar without seeming hackneyed.
Dissecting the vast components of his sound, you can clearly see the countless nods to the artists who have inspired him as songwriter, especially live. One minute he's channeling the spirit of James Brown and the next he's expressing the thoughtfulness of John Lennon. Oh and of course, it's about next to impossible to miss the influence of Hendrix, Prince, Curtis Mayfield, Zeppelin.
But that's the thing you have to love about Kravitz. He's hardly coy about concealing these influences. "Fields of Joy," for instance, borrows liberally from "Strawberry Fields" both in name and sound. And many of his songs are littered with such evocations -- the lead on "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" is straight out of the Hall and Oates fakebook, while horn parts on more than one song conjure Earth Wind and Fire. He knows this. We know this. And we love him for it just the same. Because, well, this is who he is. And these are the people who made him who he is.
Kravitz saves the most memorable moments for the very end. After essentially leveling the place with an altogether vigorous rendering of "Are You Going to Go My Way," in which he whips out his Flying V and suitably whips the crowd into an absolute frenzy, he leaves the stage ever so briefly. Ah, yes, encore time. Cue applause.
When Kravitz returns, he and guitarist Craig Ross -- with whom Kravitz has clearly forged an unmistakable chemistry with -- come back out and take a seat at the edge of the stage. With the closeness of the audience, and the way it looks on the screen, it kind of almost has a vague '68 Special sort of feel to it. The two of them dial things way down with an acoustic treatment of "Push," which leads into an earnest yet ultimately serviceable version of "Let Love Rule."
And just when you think he's winding it down and you're reaching for your coat and preparing for those obligatory departing words until next time, Kravitz wanders off again to press the flesh of his fans. Making his way through the Buell, trailed by a pair of cameramen and staffers, Kravitz meanders through the theater while the band vamps on behind him.
He makes his way to the balcony to the unmitigated and barely containable glee of, well, everybody, before finally descending back to the stage. Nothing like being all up close-and personal with an bona fied rock star, eh? And with that, he thanks us all and then gives us the obligatory "Hope to see you all again," and brings the whole band out for a bow. As the house lights come on, it's barely after 11 and we file out en masse to the instantly recognizable (and appropriate) riffs of Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower."
Personal Bias: I've been a fan of Lenny Kravitz from the very first time I heard Let Love Rule. And while I don't necessarily celebrate the guy's entire catalog, as they say, I'm definitely very moved by his music and think he's a singular talent.
Random Detail: The stage crew was dressed in black, presumably to make their presence seem less obtrusive during the set. If this was indeed the case, it didn't really work that well. We still noticed all the cord and mike stand adjustments and the swapping out of guitars. Either way, all good. Just an observation, not an indictment. Props to some hard working dudes doing their job.
By the Way: Did we miss something? When did Kravitz leave Virgin and sign with Roadrunner?
Temple Buell Theatre - 2.10.12
01. Come On Get It
02. Always On the Run
03. American Woman
04. It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over
05. Mr. Cab Driver
06. Black and White America
07. Fields of Joy
08. Stand By My Woman
11. Rock and Roll Is Dead
12. Rock Star City Life
13. Where Are We Runnin'?
14. Fly Away
15. Are You Gonna Go My Way
17. Let Love Rule
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