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Sunday, April 15, 2007

My Dinner with Hembecks

I'm pretty sure it started with a March 2 e-mail from Fred Hembeck to me and to our mutual friend Rocco, who also lives in Albany: "Lynn (Moss, Fred's wife) just informed me that Sean Lennon is going to be performing at the Egg on Tuesday, April 10th--tickets are currently being offered to Egg members only (only fair that Egg men have the advantage when it comes to a Lennon, I suppose...), but the general public get their chance starting on March 12th. Seeing as how tickets are going for only $24--and that Sean's new album has gotten mostly positive reviews (I haven't gotten a copy yet, tho when I saw him on Conan about a month or so back, I was pretty impressed by his performance--and I WILL be getting a copy soon, given the new set of circumstances), we're thinking about driving up to see the concert. Hey, it's either this, or Zak Starkey and his band, and Who tickets are way more expensive! As you fellows--and your lady friends--actually live in Albany, I thought I'd check in with you and see if either of you have any potential interest in joining us?"

We mulled it over. Rocco evidently decided against, and my wife was likewise disinclined, as she hadn't heard any of his music. Well, I hadn't heard any of his music either, except for It's Alright, when he appeared on an album of cover versions of his mother's songs called Every Man Has a Woman.

But if Fred, Lynn, and their daughter Julie were going to drive a couple hours to Albany to see Sean, how could I say no? (Fred and I discussed this later: the fact that THEY initiated the activity made it easier to go without Carol. I wouldn't have considered inviting them up, for logistical reasons having to do with the child, but since they were coming up anyway...)

So, they ordered the tickets, and then Fred sent me copies of both of Sean's albums. I discovered that I liked them both quite a bit, though some of the lyrics were a bit of a downer, I thought.

So, now I'm psyched, Fred and Lynn are psyched, Julie's psyched.

Next order of business was to figure out the logistics. They would pick me up from work (faster than the irregular bus service from Corporate Woods), and we would go out to dinner. The initial request was for a place with a decent vegetarian menu, but was later modified to a vegan place, for Julie's gone vegan.

On the day of the show, Fred writes: We'll leave here at 3:15.
We'll call you on Julie's cell phone when we arrive!
We'll eat!!
We'll go to the concert!!!

I get picked up, and I hear the dulcet tones of Rod Stewart, Julie's current obsession. At least it was Rod back he was good. We eat at Mamoun's Falafel, which was satisfying to all. We drive to the Egg. (The Albanian forgets the fastest approach to the underground parking, and we go on a mild excursion.)

We get to the concert. Our seats are in the fourth row, not too from the center aisle. This is a very intimate setting to see a show. The great thing about the Egg is that there aren't many really bad seats. But we had an excellent location, about 30 feet from at least one performer in every set.

First up is Kamila Thompson, daughter of the legendary Richard and Linda Thompson. She's wearing this attractively funky outfit, a fairly short blue dress with some sort of red print, a black sweater, black Capri pants and light colored high heels (Pink? Peach? Hard to tell with the lighting). There were so many power chords all over the floor that I thought she might trip over something.

She had a quite lovely voice, though not all of her songs, mostly about love and loss, were all that compelling. They seemed a bit pedestrian. A few riffs on her pink guitar, which she did not, she assures us, get from Hello Kitty, were rather tasty. She wanted people to go to her MySpace page; one of her MySpace friends, BTW, is Sean Lennon, I later discovered.

After as short break, Women & Children came out. There was but one woman, Cheryl, who sounded as though she had a cold and/or allergies (I sympathize). Her voice, for some reason, reminded me a little of Marianne Faithfull, circa Broken English. She did one song with her at the keyboards, then a guy comes out to play bass on the next song; he eventually plays guitar. The first drummer ends up on bass, and a second drummer eventually appears. A reviewer described them as being like Velvet Underground, and I guess that's accurate. The real problem is that no one wanted to hear them. One opening act was OK; two strained the patience of this largely middle-aged audience; it IS a work night. No fewer than three people I knew and saw during the second, fairly lengthy intermission said that W&C "sucked"; so did the Metroland reviewer. I didn't think so, but the vocals were thin, and the 40-minute set seemed interminable.

Finally, there's Sean and his band, all in suits, except for the woman on the keyboards, his musical director. I think that familiarity with his music helped my appreciation of the tunes. But as Sean acknowledged onstage, he knew that most of the people in that room had no idea what his music sounded like; while he never used the B word, he knew there were people there just because he was a "son of a Beatle". I got the sense that he's made peace with that. He introduced one song, and one woman near the front clapped; he dedicated the song to her.

Most of the songs he played early on sounded not unlike the albums, but as the show progressed, I heard some pleasant variations on the theme. He played at least one new song. Sean was very good, the band was tight, and it was an enjoyable experience.

Well, except for the one loudmouth somewhere near the back. Three or four times he shouted out stuff, and except for the first one, "Listen to What The Man Said!" (a McCartney tune! har, har!), it was incomprehensible to Sean and to me. Eventually, security people invited him to leave . Also, there were flash pictures being taken during Kamila's set, after which a guy from the Egg asked that no more be shot, not just for legal reasons, but because at least one person in the audience was having a bad physical reaction to the strobelight effect of the flashes. I noticed none during W&C, but plenty during Sean's set.

I'm sure Fred, when he gives his Rashomon version of the event for his Quick Step column next week, will describe a post-concert purchase.

They dropped me off, then headed off on their two-hour ride home. I'm tempted to say, "A splendid time was had by all," but I'll pass. Thanks to Fred, Lynn and Julie for the invitation.
Jackie Robinson played with the Brooklyn Dodgers for the first time 60 years ago today.


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