Lenny Kravitz

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Lenny Kravitz is one of those artists who I think I should really like, but was not sure if I even knew his music. So, while I was ambiguous if I should buy tickets to his concert, I certainly was not going to turn down free tickets. I happened to be on twitter for work-related reasons and saw a tweet at the top of my feed saying if you wanted to see Lenny Kravitz reach out to someone at Philadelphia Weekly. Knowing I never win anything, I emailed and imagine my surprise when I got a call saying I had won (thank you, Sheena!). The way I gushed you would have thought it was Lenny himself inviting me to be his special guest. Anyway, the decision was made for me-  I was going to see Lenny.

My good friend Chris is moving away soon, so she was the perfect companion for this musical journey. We met at the box office and were there in plenty of time to catch the opening act, Andra Day. There are two types of mindsets in relation to opening acts, either you get there in time or show up just for the main act. Me, I like an opening act. It is usually someone I never heard of and always a crapshoot. Sometimes you win and sometimes your ears bleed. But, hey, it’s music. Let’s just say, we totally scored with Andra Day. This beautiful, young, articulate woman dressed in a 1902s pin-up girls style compete with mink (hoping, faux) stole struts on stage and blows us away from the get go.  We thought we were listening to the reincarnation of Amy Winehouse but with better vocals, more stage presence and confidence. We were mesmerized and we did not know one of her songs. So, imagine our complete delight when she not only did a cover of a Bob Marley song, but reinterpreted Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Are you kidding me? Two very different styles and she completely killed both. The set ended way too soon and I was off to buy her album at the merch table. Andra. Day. Go. See. Her. IMG_4491

During intermission, we grabbed a beer and started plotting how to move closer. While we were not the least bit ungrateful about the free tickets (thank you again, Sheena!), we did want to get a bit closer. Without boring anyone of the details, though it did include dropping a staff person’s name only to retract it because we thought she would actually be called to the front and she scared us a bit, we were seated in the first orchestra section. Lenny comes on and the crowd goes wild, literally wild.

Lenny Kravitz is a rocker. He is soulful, sexual and can completely shred his way through any song on any instrument. He started and did not stop for 2+ hours. He teased, coaxed and demanded his songs through his instruments. He made one of the tightest bands I have seen in awhile get better as the show progressed. He let his bandmates shine and listened in awe to their solos. His lady drummer was killer, just killer. I was exhausted within 20 minutes. Giddy up, man, giddy up! At one point during his song “Sister,” he saw a woman in the audience become overwhelmed with emotion. What’s a rock star to do when that happens? Well, leave the stage of course and comfort her. Wait, what?  As Chris pointed out, his style was relational and somehow he can connect with people one on one in a crowd of thousands. It was inspiring.

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Man, that was a great way to start a week. As I drove Chris to her car, we reflected on our long and beautiful musical friendship. While this may be the end of this musical chapter, we both know there is music to be heard and better seats to upgrade to in the future. Giddy up, my BFFMB, giddy up.

32 shows to go, 275 days left…

 

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Stevie Wonder

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Last November, I had the honor of seeing Stevie Wonder perform, in its entirety and in order, “Songs in the Key of Life” with a gaggle of friends. It was indeed an honor. While we are still debating how many people were actually on the stage, the number varied between 9-17 people, we all agreed that we had witnessed something magical. I thought about that show for the next two weeks and my mind kept uncovering new nuances and emotions I went through that evening. This is a long way to say when Susan and I heard that Stevie Wonder was doing a pop-up concert in Philly recently, we simply asked, “where and when?”

We were hanging out at City Hall for about 45 minutes before the show started and it was a relaxed atmosphere, with folks lounging around and enjoying a perfect hot summer day. As it got closer, it got very, very crowded and by the time Stevie came on stage, there were a couple thousand people around City Hall.

In my opinion, Stevie Wonder is one of the few artists who completely transcends race. This will sound corny, but it could because he is blind and literally cannot see color. Or it could just be his personality. “Songs in the Keys of Life” is a transformative album, way ahead of its time. The things he did on that album, recorded a longer than accepted song including sounds of his baby daughter gurgling, spoken word about race relations and angry political songs explained through words of love was way ahead of its time. There are so many styles on music on that album that were not popularized until years later. The whole idea for the pop-up concert was to publicize his last tour dates playing the album from start to finish and he played songs off of it.

As soon as he started playing, the thousands jammed on city hall plaza were just jamming. While it was an incredible show at the Wells Fargo center, there was something even better being with a crowd that was seeing him for free. There was the diversity of race, age, gender, income that was an exact metaphor for what his music is trying to accomplish. As I jammed with my fellow Philadelphians to Sir Duke with a huge smile on my face and the sweltering heat on my back, I truly embraced his message of “It’s all about love… and we truly are in need of getting things right. There are so many things that we read about the people talk about that need to be fixed, not just in this country, but on this planet. Negativity breeds negativity. We can’t go out like that.”

Thank you, Stevie, thank you.

33 shows to go, 288 days left…

 

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Graham Nash

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The ongoing debate of who is your favorite Beatle is as old as, well, the Beatles. But there is the little known discussion, the poor man’s debate as you will, of who is your favorite Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Younger. Over the years, though I occasionally flirted, and flirted hard, with Neil Young, I always returned to Graham Nash. Imagine my delight when I saw he was touring and would make a stop at the Keswick Theater.

There is that initial fear of seeing a musician who was so important to you at one point during your life. For me, Graham Nash’s “Songs for Beginners” album was the soundtrack of my activism during the 80s. His songs spoke to me. They were political, personal, emotional, but also hopeful. Again and again, I truly believed him as he sang, “we can change the world.” So while I was excited, I was also hesitant in case he did not live up to my memories. Turns out, there was no reason to be worried.

He came out on a minimal stage with one other musician, Shane Fontayne (who is no slouch), and said, “this is it for tonight.” Believe me, it was more than enough. One of the treats of seeing an artist without a lot of bells and whistles is that it usually ends being a very intimate affair. And this sure was. He had recently published his autobiography, so he was not only playing his songs, but also sharing the back story of the songs with us. It was like an audiobook with a soundtrack.   Throughout the evening, we learned the how song came to be, who he was hanging with, his anger, disappointment and hope about the world, what drugs he was taking, etc. He was absolutely charming.

Of course, all of this would have been for naught if his voice did not hold up. And there was the true delight of the evening. His voice has not only held up over the years, I actually prefer it. There is now a richness to his voice that is just not possible at 20 years old with minimal life experience. And it was one I prefer. With this voice, his songs did not seem dated nor out of touch, they seemed incredibly relevant.

I am looking forward to his upcoming solo album, because the songs he played seemed more personal than political. I think that, at 20, it is hard to share your emotions, but you can channel them through your political beliefs. At 70, there is no reason not to be vulnerable and I feel that he is writing and singing about emotions without the political as a cover. Don’t get me wrong, he sang a beautiful song written about Michael Brown on the year anniversary of Ferguson. But the majority of the new songs seem about him as a man with emotions, not as a man with political beliefs. Beautiful, just beautiful.

I went in wanting to see one of my past heroes and came out with a new appreciation for the man, his music and his life. What a wonderful surprise and treat. And, if you are wondering, I still strongly believe, as Graham does, that “we can change the world.”

34 shows to go, 297 days left…