LIVE: Albert Lee Shape Shifted Reality at The Strand, 01/15/2022
The LED light on my dashboard summed it up. One tiny “oh,” zero degrees in the heart of darkness in the middle of the winter of humanity’s discontent. Saturday night before the storm that looks like a big red scar on the doppler radar map to signal the coming of a holiday that threatens to turn Martin Luther King Day into another reason for millions of Americans to cower in their homes. A day off for humanity that’s had almost two years “off.” How many inches will make the east coast hunker down in their homes?
For several hundred people at The Strand, the little theater that could, would, did, does, and still will, it was boys and girls’ night out with Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” playing on the sound system. British blues-rocker Albert Lee was making his fourth foray into the foothills of the Adirondacks, the adopted son of the movers and shakers who helped reconstitute this beautiful theater.
About a third of the seats below the balcony had signs taped to the chairs with “Reserved” emblazoned in 48-point San seraph type. Mine said “Reserved Don Wilcock Nippertown.” Each of the signs was for people who in some way pulled together to make this theater a beacon against the red Doppler scars that would take us down.
Sequester my ass!
Albert Lee was back in town and we were gonna party. When the fog cleared on my glasses from a mask that didn’t fit right, I was ready to hurtle into the music that has lifted my soul since before the first time I wrote about it in Vietnam. My readers then were terrified 18-year-olds tramping through the rice patties that with each step threatened to rip their legs apart and/or snuff out their lives and turn them into a tiny zero on the dashboard of existence.
Oh, the glory of great music, nectar of the Gods, heroin of the addicted, salve to the wounds of a world spiraling in the chaos of “fake news.” Saturday night in Hudson Falls is an alternate reality, as real to us as it was to those who baptized themselves in the soundtrack of their lives at the Fillmore East more than half a century ago when I stood in line with longhaired hippies half of whom were tripping on yellow acid. All of us waiting to see and hear an albino Texan swoop us into nirvana.
In a world that measures an artist’s worth in numbers of products sold or streamed, Albert Lee is not a star. But he gets a standing ovation before he hits a note at the Strand. He turned 78 four days before Christmas. He’s a road warrior who casually mentions to us that he spent 23 years – most of them as music director – with Don and Phil Everly, both now gone. He got the job after Clapton fired him. He announced most songs by announcing who had originated them: Hoyt Axton, Carl Perkins, Rodney Crowell, John Stewart, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, and Rickey Skaggs. Skaggs had a hit with Lee’s own “Country Boy,” Lee’s one charted hit and the centerpiece of his two-hour set.
His band consists of father keyboardist T.J. Thomas and his son John on drums. T.J. plays with a Yamaha keyboard throwing his entire body into it. He also plays accordion, his almost two-foot-long goatee threatening to get caught in the keyboard. Albert is dressed in black slacks and a black shirt, his white hair in a tangle that telegraphs his age as an old rocker. He plays guitar with a whammy bar and no pedal effects. It’s all in his fingers, thank you.
Jonathan Newell, the Renaissance keeper of the flames that is the Strand, opened the show with his Strand House Band that did a 30-minute set of ’60s rock anthems that included “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Angie,” “Miss You,” and “My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Newell put just enough of his own mojo into lead guitar, keyboards, and vocals to make them fresh. Albert Lee joined them at the end of the set, and Jonathan came up to me after the show grinning from ear to ear. “I played with Albert Lee,” he said as if to remind himself that he wasn’t dreaming.
This was no dream, but rather the collective effort of a real community with all chakras functioning.
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