Saturday, June 24, 2006


All you need is Love

"This is a night of Love," radio jock/host Ken Dashow repeated at regular intervals last night at New York's Beacon Theater benefit concert for ailing psychedelic rocker Arthur Lee. "Lee," Dashow added, "elevated the California sound."

Arthur Lee may be obscure to most, but his impact has long been felt on musicians and fans in the know. The Memphis-born guitarist and his seminal band were part of the mid-'60s L.A. rock explosion. Love's sole hit, "Seven and Seven Is," dented the charts in 1966. Combining prog elements to form a distinctly orchestral-flavored pop, Love joined fellow L.A. scenesters the Doors, the Byrds, Buffalo Springsteen and the Mamas and the Papas in a musical revolution that still resonates today.

Unfortunately, Lee has had his troubles over the years, and now the 61-year-old singer is suffering from leukemia. Hence, the benefit, organized by New York promoter Steve Weitzman. It took four hours for headliner Robert Plant to hit the stage, but the preceding bands - in varying short sets - steadily built a wave that Plant would climb aboard and ride until the concert's early-morning ending.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals deserved second billing with a spunky alt-country, half-hour 5-song set. Just as they were being introduced, Dashow joked to the baby-boomer crowd to "not eat the brown acid," to which Adams replied, "But the green stuff is OK." The Cardinals - who I saw open for Willie Nelson at the same theater last year - were better than OK, as Adams' laconic vocals and Neil Young-inspired guitar jams impressed many in the crowd who'd never heard of them.

More of a leftfield choice were noise-rockers Yo la Tengo, who managed to cram 4 songs - including the garage-y "Luci Baines," by Lee's first band, the American Four - into 18 tight minutes. "We usually do 4 songs in an hour," guitarist Ira Kaplan quipped. Kaplan, by the way, named his band after a phrase used by the original 1962 Mets ("I've got it!"). Kaplan and I both started our careers writing for the Soho Weekly News in the late-'70s, but that's a story I'll get into another time.

E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren offered an even shorter set, but he made the most of it with covers of Love's signature dream-pop minor hit "Alone Again Or" and a nod to his sometime boss, Bruce Springsteen, on Patti Smith's "Because the Night."

The other major headliner, Ian Hunter, swaggered on stage looking like he'd just stepped out of the classic-rock prop closet. This Rod Stewart clone is most famously known for his band Mott the Hoople and their anthemic 1972 hit, "All the Young Dudes" (written by David Bowie), which he performed to the crowd's delight. "All the young dudes, carry the news," they swayed and sang along. "Boogaloo dudes, carry the news."

Speaking of swagger, five minutes past midnight King Robert of Plant bolted onto the stage, wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans, his wavy blonde hair as long as ever. Like Mick Jagger, Plant hasn't gained a pound over the years, and he still, thankfully, can sing with the very best of them. Indeed, Plant is among the great rock vocalists of all time, counting on one hand.

Performing with the house band - of which he said, "I've never played with Americans before - it's liberating" - Plant mixed Led Zeppelin classics with Love originals in a memorable 70-minute set. Fans of Led Zeppelin II - such as myself - were treated to solid versions of "What Is and What Should Never Be," "Ramble On" and the show-closing "Thank You." They performed "Seven and Seven Is," "The Old Man," "Hey Joe" and several other Love tunes, with the band's original guitarist Johnny Echols sitting in.

The most comical moment of the night occurred when Plant called for Hunter to join him on stage. Hunter, who's he'd never sung with, was nowhere to be found. But during "For What It's Worth," he strolled out with a guitar, and then they dueted on the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved." It was that kind of night - fun, purposeful and pretty much on the fly.

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