My review from LV. Only revision is that yes, he DID sing with the Firebird. -B *************************************************************** Fair warning : this won't be the review I had hoped to write. ------ The Johnny concert in Las Vegas was last night. I haven't slept. ------ Yesterday, I primed myself to see Johnny by listening to "Live in NYC," twice in my hotel room before the show. I wanted to do this, so I could compare his 1997 performance to the one he's now doing. ------ At around 6pm, I checked out of my hotel in Downtown Las Vegas, and took a taxi to the Mandalay Bay. That place is really nice. Aside from the architecture, one of the first things you notice is that all the cocktail waitresses have quite a bit of their ass sticking out of their costumes. That is convenient, because they all have great asses. I had dinner at the Mandalay Buffet, and had 3 piles of crab legs; among about 50 other things. ------ Entering the "House of Blues," a guy asked me for "any extra tickets." It must have been a sellout. The "House of Blues" is quite elaborate. There were at least two restaurants, and at least 5 bars. The showroom is roughly a rectangle, with the stage on one side, and the three other sides being bars. I went to my seat on the Loge level to watch the first two warm up bands. The seats were very comfortable, with a good view of the stage down below. In front of the stage was a large open area where people were dancing and milling about. I was seated next to a pretty darn good looking fourty-ish woman, and her even better looking 20 year old daughter. We didn't talk... until later... Beers 5 bucks. I was sober for the first Johnny concert in my history. The crowd was the typical Johnny audience, but for some reason, everybody looks older. Do I? Biker types were sprinkled in, as usual (nobody noticed me in disguise). Drunk guys, drunk chicks. But overall, the same people, only mellower now. Mixed in with that bunch was about a 5% allotment of people who definitely didn't belong there. WAY older than me, and well dressed. I suspect these were people who "wanted to see a Las Vegas show," and didn't necessarily know who Johnny was. The first warm up band was "Grady Champion," a young harmonica guy. Fair. He had a "chick" guitar player; also "fair." The second band was "Cocoa Montoya." Sorta fat guitarist from southern California. Pretty good. He played a right handed strat type guitar left handed, complete with the low strings on the bottom; Hendrix style. At the precise moment that the second band was wrapping up, I made my tactical move down to the stage. It was far easier than I expected. Nobody was pushing and shoving. I walked right up to the stage, slightly to the left. The stage came up to my chin. When the curtain opened, I would be the only guy directly in front of Johnny. The crowd in front of the stage was quite "Johnny oriented." Lots of people drinking. Sporadic "YA's," and yells of, "John-ny." I eventually ended up between a pretty cool (and Johnny knowledgeable) muscle guy, and some other guy from Baltimore. The guy from Baltimore boasted that he had seen Johnny "16 times." I couldn't help but mention to him that I have seen Johnny, "somewhere around 25 times." ------ Here we go. House lights dim. Sound of the Lazer. Curtain opens. There is Johnny, right in front of me, behind one of two monitor speakers. The mike stand is 18 inches to my right. Perfect. The song was, "Hideaway." White Lazer. Black cowboy boots, Levi's, a sleeveless black "Blues Brothers" T-shirt, slightly longer than shoulder length hair, straw hat. Wow, I thought, Johnny looks ... old ... THERE'S JOHNNY. I totally dig seeing Johnny. I dig Johnny. My mouth dropped open because I was standing there watching Johnny right in front of me. My mouth remained open for the rest of the show. Music Man amp. Lazer sounds OK; let's look Johnny over. Face looks pale. He's lost some weight, you can see it in his face. Tattoos are fading, and no new ones. A couple rings on his right hand, none on the left. He's wearing a watch. The white Lazer has rainbowish stars on it. I meant to count them for some reason, but never did. Is it my position here by this monitor, or did Johnny just miss a lick? Glance at the bass player. So that's Mark Epstein. Precision. Nice sound. Drummer ... new drummer ... sounds OK ... can't see the drummer ... Wow. There's Johnny playing the Lazer. I DIG JOHNNY. OK, take a couple pictures. I had my APS mini camera with 400 speed film. Flash off, in respect for Johnny. Here we go. The usual problems with the mike stand being in the way, and the annoying stage lighting which was always anything but white, which is what I want. Real bad row of lights just above Johnny's head. I ended up taking 20 or less pictures, and I don't expect much. I did (forgive me), switch on the flash for a couple of shots when Johnny had his eyes closed. Hey, this seemed ... important. Pics due back Sunday, but I'll check tomorrow. ------ Later in the show. OK, so He's stickin' like glue with the Live in NYC set. Fair enough. Johnny looks old. I'm actually hearing mistakes. Mistakes? From Johnny? No. YES. Johnny is rocking back and forth as he plays. He always did that, but it's not the same. He rocks at the same tempo, even if it doesn't match the song. Medication comes to mind. Medication and mistakes, and he looks older... But it's SO BITCHEN to SEE JOHNNY RIGHT THERE. Those ARE mistakes. Third song now, and I just saw the bass player actually cringe. How could Johnny possibly make a mistake playing the guitar? He never did before. Well, if he did, he'd cover it up by playing the same wrong note again, as if he "meant to do it." Perhaps with a spontaneously invented riff to blend it in. But he's not doing that. Can he not hear it like I can? Standing in front of a wall of Marshall's was never good for ones hearing. or could it be that he hears the mistake too, but can't make the correction? THERE'S JOHNNY. The crowd is diggin' Johnny. People love him. These people are INTO the show. Drunk people dancing. People are yelling. This is definitely a JOHNNY CONCERT. Several times per song, Johnny lays down a trademark lick and the crowd goes wild. WILD! ------ Johnny's singing sounds OK. At least, not THAT bad. Maybe I've never even heard his singing in a concert because I'm always at the stage, and the speakers for the vocals are, "somewhere else." Later I realized that in the whole show, there was not one growled, "YA!" from Johnny. ----- 3rd song. Confirmed. Johnny is off tonight. He's up there, he's playing, but it's not like I remember him being up there and playing. Wow. I can't believe I'm seeing this. ---- Now I remember walking out of one of the especially awesome shows at the Country Club in the valley 15 years ago, and remarking to Chris, "How long can he keep doing this?" "Someday, he'll slow down ... " ----- On the way to the show tonight, I thought that I'd yell out, "Broke and Lonely!" Because I'd really like to hear him play that one. I've been addicted to it lately. Now I'm thinkin' I better not. He's obviously sticking with the prescribed (sic) show, and I don't want to confuse him. I did, however, give him a "Whip It Out, Johnny" between songs once, which preceded a smile on his face. I know he heard me. It looks like he's having fun, but it's like he's struggling. There goes another wrong set of notes. ---- New song about to start. Bass player comes over to look Johnny in the eye. Says something. He did that before. ---- I smell pot from the audience behind me. Long live tradition. --- He still has the fire. It's INSIDE him. The show is LOUD. I can feel my shirt vibrating to the bass. He still has the fire, because he still plays the licks that makes the crowd go nuts. But where is the innovation? Johnny used to always shell a few, "new licks" at every concert that would make my hair stand up. It was something I always looked forward to. ----- I dig Johnny. I don't care what he does. I don't care if he makes mistakes. I'll go and see Johnny anytime, anywhere I can. I don't really care. ----- Well into the set now. I noticed that there is a "Firebird sized" guitar case stage left. And now that you mention it, that "Roadie" looks like the usual guy, doesn't he? He's watching Johnny "very" carefully... Not sure, but here is what I think happened next. I think he played, "The Sun is Shining" (a Firebird/slide song on the album), with the Lazer, ended the song, stopped, switched guitars, and then played the solo of the same song with the Firebird/slide. Now, for the first time since the show started, Johnny has to move about 15 feet to change guitars. Evidently, the same guitar case is cut to hold both the white Lazer, and the brown Firebird. Johnny is moving SO SLOW. My father is 81, and he moves more fluidly. How old is Johnny now? Wow. There's Johnny. It's the year 2000. Bass player is keeping the crowd revved up during the guitar change. Roadie helps with the strap, but Johnny feeds the cord through the strap and plugs the cord into the guitar by himself. On his first try at plugging the cord into the Firebird, he misses the socket. Now I'm certain about all my thoughts. That seemingly insignificant motion solidified my feelings. Johnny missed the plug on the Firebird. ----- Johnny starts playing slide, cuts into "The Sun is Shining" again, while the other two pieces of the band are just idling. THAT FIREBIRD SOUNDS SWEET. MAN, IS IT EVER GOOD TO HEAR THAT! JOHNNY IS WHIPPIN' IT OUT ON SLIDE! He's not doing the back and forth rocking motion with the Firebird on him. He looks so much more natural now. He's comfortable. He's playing "at ease." Nailin' it. OK, a couple notes off here and there, but much better. THERE'S JOHNNY, PLAYING SLIDE ON THE FIREBIRD!!!!!!!! CONFIRMED, YES, I'M HAPPY RIGHT NOW IN TIME. Finally, back in sync with the Universe... Take some pics, you idiot. Should have taken more. Should have done one with the flash. Even with the rip-off Ticketmaster handling fees, admission has now been paid for. Johnny on slide. There ya go. Johnny with the brown Firebird. HEAVENLY. ----- Hmm. Johnny didn't sing and play slide at the same time, I don't think. Another difference from the album. Another difference from only 3 years ago. ----- I remarked to the muscle guy that I once saw Johnny play that same guitar ... behind his head ... ----- After the one slide song, the guitar switch was just as slow. Johnny ever so s-l-o-w-l-y placed the brown Firebird in it's case as if it were a immensely valuable icon, which of course, it is. ----- More Lazer numbers. A couple extra songs (or more accurately, parts of songs) rounded out the set. We're hearing the mistakes, sure, but we don't care. Because THERE'S JOHNNY. Entire crowd turned apologetic a long time ago. ----- And You Betcha it was BITCHEN standing there in front of Johnny as he played, "Johnny Guitar." ----- ... and then he said good-bye.... ----- Obviously only going to be just one encore, just like the album. Pictures were all shot. ---- I moved back. I left my place at the stage and found another one ... way back ... perspective time. Encore was nice. After all, THERE WAS JOHNNY. ---- I left the show as soon as Johnny left my field of view. He played for 1 hour, 15 minutes. My flight to Portland leaves in 67 minutes. ---- Got back to PDX around 3:30 am. I didn't know what to do at that time of day, so I went to the grocery store, and then went fishing. This is what I came up with: If we say that the 1997 Live album represents Johnny at 70% of his mid-80's prime, and then subtract another 30% from there, it works out that Johnny is currently playing at 40% of what you may care to remember. I DIG JOHNNY. And even at 40% of his best, he's still better than alot of others. ALOT. And there are alot of other Johnny fans who love him almost as much as me. So what if he's not the "best" anymore. I already told ya 15 years ago it couldn't last. What "human" could keep it up? His records speak for themselves. Just like Hank Aarons do. And he's still Johnny. The only JOHNNY. The only one. There is only one JOHNNY. ----- Times change. But I'll still go see JOHNNY whenever I can. That WON'T change. ----- I mentioned at the start about the fourty-ish woman and her pretty daughter that I initially sat next to at the concert. As I was leaving the Mandalay Bay, both of them happened to come up behind me at the taxi stand. Late at night, we were the only ones there. I spoke briefly with the older of the two ... Right out of the blue, her words were ... "I felt like crying." I know. And today I've learned it helps. See you at the next Johnny concert. - B
29 JAN 2000, Atlanta, Variety Playhouse
Because of the awful shape I saw Johnny in a couple of years ago here, I was very reluctantly dragged to see him this past Jan. 29th by a good friend who'd never seen him. It knew it would just tear me up to see the greatest bluesrocker of all time like that again. But against all hope I thought maybe it had been a fluke, and he'd have some of his old stuff. I've seen Johnny maybe 15 times over the years. I was a little too young to have seen him in his heyday. Though I listened to all his early records (and Edgars) and loved 'em, the first time I ever saw him was in 1977 in Austin at that great (and no longer existing) rockin' palace, the Armadillo World Headquarters. Maybe he was just feeling good that night, or maybe it was because he was back home in Texas, but he tore the place down that night, and played for over 3 hrs. He mixed his hardest rock, blues, sat down on a tall stool and played his heart out. I was blown away, as I was many times to follow over the years... It was worse than I could have imagined. The crowd was surprisingly large considering we were on the tail of a bad ice storm weekend here in Atlanta. He tried to play the same show everyone's described for the last few years. He looked like death. He can't sing at all any more, like all his breathe is gone. That great old voice is just gone. He could barely play too. Seemed like his band kept trying to pull him along, but he could hardly do it. He just kept this weird off-beat tottering from leg to the other going the whole time. When he changed guitars, I noticed his hand shaking real bad as he unplugged. Something is bad wrong with the man, I wish he'd get the help he needs (if anything can be done). By his recent interview in the GuitarWorld mag.(MAR2000), he still seems to have his mind. How can he not know whats happened to himself? I'm reduced to praying for a miracle, like some others I've heard. Until then folks, I'm "Hurting So Bad".