Joe Louis Walker--"Sugar Mama" (mp3)
The same with Steven Van Zandt. He has a wealth of songs, songs he's written for Southside Johnny or for Gary U.S. Bonds, plus songs from his own solo records that sometimes strike me as good as Springsteen's own songs. It has seemed egotistical to me, almost selfish, that Springsteen wouldn't draw more from the talents of these other performers. No more. I've wised up. I've realized that when you go to see a live show, you go to see the person(s) printed on the ticket. That's the show you came to see.
Most people in the audience seemed to think that this was just fine. But I came to see Joe Louis Walker, and I expected/wanted to see him as the focal point of every song. Which is not to suggest that he didn't play a stunning, idiosyncratic solo on every song in the set, save one. He did. Each one further confirmed his skill and breadth. But when you do to see Eric Clapton, for example, you don't want to see him playing back-up on other people's songs, do you? I don't.
I can't speak to how pervasive this trend is beyond my own experiences, but I still don't like it. Sure it's great that older musicians want to offer a helping hand to younger musicians, but I think that their first obligation is to the concertgoers, those who have dropped their money on a ticket.
Joe Louis Walker has a great blues voice and an even better blues sensibility, and when he hands on-stage focus to his back-up band for four or more songs in a row, I think he does a disservice to his fans, regardless of how exceptional a background musician he is. I don't want to make a big deal about this, but I have been listening to Mr. Walker since the 1980's, and while I've learned from Alejandro Escovedo that I have no right to request particular songs at a concert, I still remain confident saying that anything from Mr. Walker's catalog would have intrigued me more than the current projects of his sidemen (and women). Yes, they are very good, but they are not who I came to see.
In most settings, it costs quite a bit of money to see a concert. I don't think it unreasonable that a concertgoer expects to see the listed performer perform as the main part of the act. Sure, maybe there's a song here or there where the main person plays a different role, but that should be rare and an exception. And , sure, when I go to a concert, I have little way of knowing what the performer is into at that time. Maybe he really gets off on playing other people's stuff and getting to hang back, except for solos. Rock critic and general asshole Dave Marsh is probably going to leave another comment saying that it's none of my business what a performer does or doesn't play or how he decides to play his show.
But I have to disagree. I think I've played Mssrs. Walker and Marsalis et al the supreme compliment that there's no one I'd rather listen to. That just happens to include members of their own bands. I mean, who would you rather see? The Jimi Hendrix Experience or Hendrix backing up Buddy Miles in the Band of Gypsies?