Sunday, July 22, 2018

Stars Align At FivePoint Amphitheatre | Lefsetz Letter

It was like the Fillmore.

Only it happened at a hellhole in the middle of nowhere.

Actually, not a hellhole, that’s the amphitheatre in Glen Helen, which I last went to when it sported the moniker “Blockbuster,” it would be best if they both disappeared. The shed began with Tanglewood, but a few decades back every local promoter built one on the cheap and although they afford a night under the stars, almost all have no soul, unlike my beloved Fillmore East, which began as a Yiddish live spot, then became a movie theatre and had its heyday with rock until Bill Graham shut it down in 1971 citing economics.

And this tour is based on economics. Everybody needs money. Did you read that Johnny Depp article in “Rolling Stone”? No matter how rich you are you can blow all your cash, and so many who made it back then did not reap the rewards of those plying the boards today.

So the FivePoint is in Irvine on land that used to be the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station base. That’s right, a vast field of nothingness, but you’ve got to applaud the free parking.

But there’s no hill, no lawn for picnicking. I wouldn’t be surprised if I went back today and the whole amphitheatre was gone. It all looked so temporary. From the honeywagons to the foldup seating to the bleachers… The only thing professional was the stage, and its accoutrements. The sound was impeccable, and the big screens were both large and dense. So you could get into the music.

And I did.

The opener was Ann Wilson. Who’s still got her pipes, but should get back together with Heart. Sure, we want to hear her do covers, but mostly we want to hear Heart songs.

And then came Paul Rodgers.

Now this was an Orange County crowd, not the one you see on TV, not the one that lives on the beach, but the true denizens. Used to be L.A. and Orange County merged, but those days are kaput, traffic is just too bad, it literally took us two and a half hours to get there from Santa Monica, which is longer than it takes from Stockbridge to Boston, although we zipped right home in an hour. And these were not young ‘uns…

These were fifty and sixtysomethings. Some of whom dressed up for the evening, but most of whom partook back in the seventies, of drugs, alcohol and music. This was before the era of haves and have-nots. Before the era when you were relaxing you were falling behind. When we sat in front of the stereo, zoned out, and went to bars and lived for the music.

So Paul is taking a risk, with his new band Free Spirit, comprised of Deborah Bonham’s backing band, he’s playing a plethora of Free tunes, many of which the audience did not know, but he needs to grow, he just can’t do the same old thing.

And then he played “Feel Like Makin’ Love”…

“Baby, when I think about you”

And that’s when women popped up all over the amphitheatre, grooving to the music, thrusting their arms in the air…


These were not the social x-rays you see in the society pages. They had some miles on them, just like their now-seated male companions. There was no plastic surgery, maybe a few more pounds, but you could see straight back to that era, these were the girls you wanted to hang out with, who winked, who were up for anything, who wanted to have a good time, who were not afraid of the music…the ones we wallflowers were infatuated with. And with the music infecting their souls last night one was infatuated with them again.

And for someone who never saw Free, which is just about all of us, but is besotted with their material, Paul played a spectrum of legendary songs, beginning with “Little Bit Of Love,” going on to “Wishing Well,” “My Brother Jake” and even the STEALER, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I missed Paul Kossoff’s guitar, whom Rodgers believes is the greatest axeman of all time, and he’s worked with Page, May…

But the audience embraced “Mr. Big.” And to hear “Fire And Water” was to jet back to the past, when I first bought that album, back in my first year of college.

But the scene-stealer, the one that truly resonated, was “Ready For Love,” sung by its writer Mick Ralphs on the Mott The Hoople album “All The Young Dudes” and remade on Bad Company’s first.

This rock and roll music, it makes you feel good, it squeezes out all the bad feelings, it has you thrusting your arm in the air, it has you singing along. When done right, nothing else matters.

And nothing else mattered last night.

And now everybody was into it, and then Paul played his legendary hit.


And it was and still is. That’s how I felt last night, all right NOW!

And backstage, which looks like it was carried intact from the old Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, I asked Paul why he didn’t play “Bad Company,” the eponymous track, I thought it had to do with mood, but Paul wanted to separate the acts, the perception of the audience, and then I told him I was gonna go out front, to see Jeff Beck, and Paul said there was no problem, I’d be able to HEAR HIM!

And boy could you.

This is the greatest rock guitarist of all time, still playing live, looking worse for wear in his seventies, but his playing… He made it look so easy, yet it’s so hard.

And it was a master class, because of the aforementioned big screens, which focused on him. You could see his fingers pluck the strings, you could see him move the whammy bar, you were positively stunned.

And if the girls loved Paul…

The boys were there for Beck. It was kind of like a Rush show, guitar geeks there to pray at the altar.

And Jeff did not disappoint.

Let’s start with the band. Jeff Beck is single-handedly doing more for women in music than seemingly any other man. He has a long history of employing women, from Jennifer Batten to Tal Winkenfeld. Last night, his bassist was Rhonda Smith, the Canadian who spent ten years with Prince. I know, I know, women are famous for playing bass, but Rhonda levitated the instrument to a new height, when she soloed early in the set, your jaw dropped. This was a trained musician, who was exhibiting chops without showing off, it was a revelation.

And on cello (and sometimes twelve-string guitar!) was Sonus Quartet member Vanessa Freebairn-Smith. And for a good part of the show, her playing was lost in the mix, but there were other moments where her bowing shone through.

And then on drums…

Straight from “Catholic Girls” (and BOYS), was the man himself, veteran of Zappa and more sessions than one can count, VINNIE COLAIUTA!

Now if you’re counting the best drummers of all time, Vinnie’s on the list, even if you didn’t know who he was, you were wowed. He wasn’t showing off, just keeping the beat and adding flourishes and you realized that Jeff had surrounded himself with SUPERSTARS!

And it was not a greatest hits show, it was almost as if he said to himself if he’s bothering to go on the road, he might as well make it interesting to himself, which is probably why these players signed on.

And you’d have to be a muso nonpareil to know the initial songs, a Billy Cobham cover, “Stratus,” and a Mahavishnu Orchestra cover, “You Know You Know,” but it didn’t matter, it was like you were jetted into outer space, to experience the work of an alien, knowing soon it would end and you’d be left in silence, you had to pinch yourself.

And then the unmistakable “Morning Dew,” with a vocalist…


Whom you might remember from Wet Willie, “Keep On Smiling,” sure, he sang on Beck’s “Flash,” but what’s he been doing all these years, is this what happens, you become infatuated with music and can’t give up?

And speaking of giving up, the couple next to me departed, but everybody else stayed, this was mostly unfamiliar guitar god material, I thought people would leave, but they did not.

And then a cover of “Little Wing”??? Which Derek and Sting made famous as covers of Jimi Hendrix’s original?

And then there were the traditional numbers…

“Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers,” exquisite as ever.

“A Day In The Life.”

And my personal favorite, “Brush With The Blues.”

And then a rollicking cover of “Superstition,” which Stevie Wonder gave to Beck and then took back. And it was…



It was only 10:50, did this venue have a curfew? Unions? I mean who would you be disturbing out here in the middle of nowhere?

But Jeff came back to applause, and just he and Vanessa, the cellist, did a cover of Jeff Buckley’s cover of Benjamin Britten’s “Corpus Christi Carol.” It couldn’t have been more quiet, it couldn’t have been more at odds with the mood, which is what made it so spectacular, like being at a chamber music concert.

And then…

Jimmy came out and blew harmonica into the microphone, displaying heretofore unknown excellence, on the old rock/soul nugget “Going Down.”


We all know this, the band was firing on all cylinders.

And then the lights came up and it was truly done.

I was expecting an oldies show, rooted in the past, another night on the endless road in the middle of nowhere.

And although we were in the middle of nowhere, that’s not what happened.

Ann Wilson was hampered by appearing in daylight. But where else are you gonna get such a stellar opener, not even at the Fillmore!

And fifteen minutes later you got one of the greatest rock voices of all time, still intact, still powerful, playing songs true fans knew by heart, some of which you never thought you’d hear again.

And then a guitar god putting on a master class, a hall of fame performance, for seemingly nobody but himself and his bandmates. It’d be like running into McCartney in a bar, or Jagger at a house concert. HOW COULD THIS BE?

So I didn’t want to listen to the radio on the way home, I just wanted to bask in the sound and the experience.

There were seemingly no youngsters in attendance, this was not Steve Miller playing his hits for a generation that still hears them on the radio, the audience was not being replenished, rather this show was for people who’d been there, who’d lived through it.

And they were not disappointed.

And for one night, in the middle of 2018, it was like it was the seventies all over again. When giants walked the earth, when musicians were the pinnacle of society, when we all were addicted to the radio, when we all built our collections to exhibit on stereos we scrimped and saved for, when we all LIVED FOR THE MUSIC!

You shoulda been there!


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