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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Kozmic Blues: The Life and Music of Janis Joplin - November 14, 2009

janis joplin
On November 14, 2009 a group of world class performers descended upon PlayhouseSquare's State Theatre in Cleveland to pay tribute to Janis Joplin during the 14th annual, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, American Music Masters series, entitled Kozmic Blues: The Life and Music of Janis Joplin.

The concert lineup consisted of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Ray Benson, Guy Clark, Roky Erickson, Nick Gravenites, Nona Hendryx, Bettye LaVette, Country Joe McDonald, Bob Neuwirth, Powell St. John, Susan Tedeschi, Lucinda Williams, Carolyn Wonderland, and Santana co-founders Gregg Rolie and Michael Carrabello.

Janis Joplin’s sister, Laura, said “I am touched, as is the rest of the family, that Janis’ musical and social power continue to inspire and remain important in the lives of so many,” said Laura Joplin, Janis’ sister. “We thank the Rock Hall for selecting her for the 2009 American Music Masters series. It is a true compliment and homage to her contributions, and she would be proud to see her name among the others who have been honored.”

The show was headlined by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams. Williams even debuted a new tune, written especially for the occasion.

"I just finished it a little bit ago," she told a near-capacity crowd of 2,000-plus fans before launching into "Difficult Child," a touching ode to the MIA guest of honor.

"I was a difficult child right from the start / I was running wild before I could walk," Williams sang with a luxurious drawl, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar.

Lucinda Williams was the wrong act to close the show. She appeared out of it and a bit unprofessional. She seemed to have 'phoned-in' her performance. She didn't even know the words! For someone who was supposed to 'embody the spirit of Janis Joplin's work', she was a let down. Melissa Etheridge should have closed the show or at least the amazing talents of Susan Tedeschi and Carolyn Wonderland - they truly embodied the work of Janis. Even Terry Stewart seemed unimpressed by Williams.

Also on the eclectic bill were veteran folkie Country Joe McDonald and R&B singers Nona Hendryx and Betty LaVette, among others.

McDonald, who dated Joplin in the '60s, struck a personal chord with "Janis," a pretty ballad. Hendryx sang "Nightbird," a sweet original tune inspired by Joplin. And LaVette put a smoldering twist on one of Joplin's signature hits, "Piece of My Heart."

Bob Neuwirth, the Akron native perhaps best known for palling around with Bob Dylan in the '60s and '70s, co-wrote one of Joplin's most beloved ditties, "Mercedes Benz." Neuwirth delivered a rough-around-the-edges version of the this song, joined by a chorus that included Joplin's brother and sister, Michael and Laura, as well as Joplin's former road manager, John Byrne Cooke.

Bob Neuwirth, who ruined his own song in the minds of many with a frill-less "Mercedes Benz" delivered mostly a cappella and in half time, had the audience doing their best to chant along obediently to the unnaturally slow rhythm, but more in a spirit of deference than one of joy.

Our own Roky Erickson belted through "You're Gonna Miss Me”, reportedly making his first-ever Cleveland appearance. His performance was marred by a broken guitar strap that some Roadie tried to fix while Roky was performing.

Unfortunately, the show was also marred by numerous technical flaws... a poor sound mix that tried to compensate by merely pumping the volume on everything; a paucity of guitar cables, requiring stagehands to walk on and off stage intermittently to find the plugs and give them to the performers; a lumbering cameraman and his cable puller who distracted both audience and performers by wandering around the stage looking for a shot.

The concert had its bright spots, Carolyn Wonderland, Susan Tedeschi, Santana's Gregg Rolie performing "Evil Ways", but these performances were either buried in the lineup, rather than being highlighted, or were unrelated to Joplin's legacy.

Toward the end of the concert, which ran nearly three hours, Michael and Laura accepted the American Music Masters Award on their sister's behalf.

"This has been awesome," Michael said.

Previous American Music Masters installments have saluted the likes of Woody Guthrie, Sam Cooke and Les Paul. Joplin was only the second female honoree; the first was Bessie Smith.

SET LIST:

HOUSE BAND

Combination of the Two

RAY BENSON

Silver Threads and Golden Needles

GUY CLARK

Trouble in Mind

She Ain't Goin' Nowhere

ROKY ERICKSON

You're Gonna Miss Me

Oh My Soul

COUNTRY JOE MCDONALD

Easy Rider

Janis

POWELL ST. JOHN

Bye Bye Baby

CAROLYN WONDERLAND

Down on Me

NICK GRAVENITES

Buried Alive in the Blues

GREGG ROLIE AND MICHAEL CARABELLO

No One to Depend On

Evil Ways

SUSAN TEDESCHI

Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

Kozmic Blues

Tell Mama

NONA HENDRYX

Nightbird

Move Over

BETTYE LAVETTE

A Woman Left Lonely

Piece of My Heart

BOB NEUWIRTH

Good Intentions

Mercedes Benz

LUCINDA WILLIAMS

Me and Bobby McGee

Ball and Chain

Difficult Child

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