LIVE: Ian McLagan @ the Bearsville Theater, 6/21/13

Review by Fred Rudofsky

“I thought every one of you would be wearing tie-dyed!” cracked Ian McLagan, dressed in black, standing behind his keyboards at mid-set to the conservatively dressed crowd in the bar area of the Bearsville Theatre. The subsequent laughter made him smile wider, raise his drink, and continue on with an engaging series of flashbacks to the peaks and pitfalls of the 1960s music scene when he was in the Small Faces with Steve Marriott, Kenney Jones and Ronnie Lane.

Joined for a majority of the set by John Notarthomas on bass, guitar and vocals, McLagan was in fine form, and honored to be playing in a venue that had deep historical connections to the Band. Glancing at the vintage photos that surrounded the bar area, McLagan opened the show with a brief reference to owning the late Richard Manuel’s piano, the instrument upon which “Hello Old Friend,” a song for Ronnie Lane, was written. (For those who may not know, Lane, who died in 1997 after 20 years of battling MS, wrote some of the best songs in rock era as bassist for the Small Faces and the Faces, as well as releasing some excellent solo albums, too).

A denizen of Austin, Texas for 20 years, McLagan spoke of his love of that music mecca, though ever the Brit he did remark in an astute aside that “The youth of today don’t know how to drink!” and “Budweiser is a pretend beer!” An avid fan of Otis Spann and Pete Johnson, McLagan played some fine barrelhouse blues on “Been a Long Time,” his weathered voice adding wisdom to the recollection of wild times. Yet tender times also mark his life these days as the upbeat advice song, “Little Girl”, dedicated to his granddaughter, suggested.

Calling up Notarthomas to play bass, McLagan spoke of the “10,000 mile tour” they were on for the summer. “I’m Your Baby Now,” one of the songs on an album due out this Christmas, was a slow melodic blues with some frenzied fills. “If you see us in Austin on a Thursday night at the Lucky Lounge, it’s free to get in and $20 to get out!” joked McLagan during a brief pitch for the live CD that was recorded there in April 2013 and available at the merchandise table. “Warm Rain” and “Never Say Never,” featuring his trademark Wurlitzer, were mesmerizing and no doubt inspired by Kim, his beloved late wife of 33 years. “All I Wanna Do” and “Mean Old World,” both from the upcoming album, showed off the skills of Notarthomas, who played some melodic bass on the former and tremolo guitar on the latter, a meditative piece with the cryptic “Like Chinese whispers/Truth takes a walk” lyric standing out.

McLagan’s lengthy recollection of how he joined the Small Faces was hilarious and heartwarming (“I had found my brothers!”) and also a cautionary tale about how to get swindled by a smooth-talking manager, in
this case, the notorious Don Arden. Rarely played during the Small Faces’ tenure, “Get Yourself Together,” whose biggest fan may be Paul Weller, got a full-throttle performance from McLagan and Notarthomas, and it felt like 1965 wasn’t that long ago. Playing solo piano, McLagan showed off the full range of his skills – “Don’t Say Nothing at All” brimmed with melody; the chorus of “Trapped” ached for forgiveness; and “I’m Hot, You’re Cool” rocked the blues. Back up on stage, Notarthomas added some tight harmonies to “Sha La La La La” and provided a fine dual vocal and gut-string guitar to the country blues of “An Innocent Man.” Lamenting the lack of Guinness in the house, McLagan shrugged off his disappointment with “I Will Follow,” a kinetic walking blues featured on the recent live CD.

The Faces, the other beloved hall of fame band McLagan was in, also got considerable attention to the delight of the audience. “Glad and Sorry” featured lively piano and bass interplay that elicited “Wow!” exclamations throughout the room. One of the finest Ian MacLagan-Ronnie Lane compositions, “Debris,” was prefaced with McLagan’s recollections of the bombsites and air raid shelters scattered about London shortly after WWII. According to MacLagan, Lane not only could locate deep meaning in the urban ruins and labor disputes, but even “found beauty in the nettle bushes of Itchycoo Park” when London was swinging in 1967. The rendition of “Debris” that followed featured a superb vocal and electric piano by McLagan, and Notarthomas seemed to channel Lane’s understated bass style. “You’re So Rude”, a rollicking tale about Lane’s frisky first girlfriend and a hilarious evening of coitus interruptus, closed out the show on a
high note.

Hanging out till closing time, McLagan (“Call me ‘Mac'”) autographed various albums from throughout his career and copies of his must-read memoir “All the Rage”; posed for photos with fans; and offered vivid stories about his former bands as well as working with Levon Helm and Amy Helm, Shannon McNally, Keith Richards, Toni Price, Bonnie Raitt, Howling Wolf and many others.

David Greenberger’s review at Metroland

Hello Old Friend
Been a Long Time
Little Girl
I’m Your Baby Now
Warm Rain
Never Say Never
All I Wanna Do
Mean Old World
Get Yourself Together
Don’t Say Nothing at All
I’m Hot, You’re Cool
Sha La La La La
An Innocent Man
Glad and Sorry
I Will Follow
You’re So Rude

  1. Denise Borden says

    another fab review by Fred Rudofsky ….wish we could have been two places at once on this particular night and truth is that now after reading this fine review we feel like we may well have been there at Bearsville for this wonderful evening with Ian McLagan …thanks Fred !

  2. Les says

    Well written from the prospective of someone who appreciates where it all began. Thanks Fred.

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