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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Serge

Foire aux Vins, Colmar, France, August 11th, 2007

It’s a wine region here, so we have a huge wine fair in the city of Colmar every year in August, with all the fitting overindulgences that you may guess.

The most surprising part of that fair, that is, are all the concerts that take place every evening since fifty years or so, often showcasing world famous bands and singers, some of them not hesitating to take a stroll along the wine booths after their shows (I’ll always remember that evening when, while sipping a gewuztraminer at one of the booths, I suddenly noticed that the tall guy with long hair and a strange accent standing next to me was Robert Plant). Of course we had many French-speaking singers, such as Brel, Trénet, Brassens or Aznavour, but also all kinds of international artistes such as Ray Charles, Pink Floyd, James Brown, Chet Baker, Lou Reed, Dizzy Gillespie, ZZ Top, Iggy Pop or Joan Baez to name but a few. Yes, it’s quite eclectic! This year the programme is rather varied again, with interesting gigs to choose from, including quite a few old lags: The Chemical Brothers, Norah Jones, Ten Years After, Mika, Status Quo, Smashing Pumpkins… And that good old Joe Cocker, whom we never saw live before, even if he already performed at the Foire aux Vins seven years ago.
So, here we are for Joe Cocker, in the so-called ‘coquille’, a semi-open air concert hall that can shelter up to 9,000 people. And it’s full with a pretty eclectic audience tonight, spanning several generations. There’s the “With a little help” generation, or should I say “Woodstock”. White hair if any, Lacoste polo shirt (crushed raspberries seems to be quite hot a colour this year, just like last year, and the year before, and the year before…) and heavy cotton trousers, beige of course. Coquille
Then the “Unchain my heart” generation. Men, no style, women, discotheque style, stamped 1988. And finally the “You can leave your hat on” generation, that is to say just anybody, since ‘that’ movie is regularly rerun on television.On stage it’s a large band. Drums, percs, bass (a charming girl – but why do so many bands hire female bassists these days? Is the thin girl - big guitar combo that hot?), guitar (Gene Black, excellent, he does both solo and rhythm and brings a more rock and roll side to the whole), tenor sax and accordion (good player), Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes (I believe) and two omnipresent female vocalists. And, of course, Mr Joe Cocker, all dressed in black and starting to look more and more like a thicker Anthony Hopkins.
Cocker They are all as regular as clockwork from the first song on (I think it’s Chain of Fools) till the very end of the set and the whole really sounds like a studio album. Perfect tuning, perfect voice, but everything is very predictable and some passages are too polished for my tastes, like that schmaltzy “Up where we belong” (from the movie Officer and Gentleman, aaargh!) or a very reggae-ish “Summer in the city”. Now, Joe Cocker is in very good voice I must say, doing his famous and obligatory shrieks exactly like… err, at Woodstock. Granted, the skilful backing vocalists really support the whole almost permanently but Mr Cocker, 63, hasn’t lost a single bit of it despite all the compulsory excesses he did in the 1970’s, of which all biographies of any rock legends are full anyway (whether dead or alive).
And of course he does his trademark epileptic body movements, forearms and hands, playing with imaginary pianos and guitars as if it was what he had preferred to do in the first place – even if I’ve read that he used to be a drummer when he was a kid.
The gig is sometimes really like a variety show, despite the very heavy drumming (no swing so it does not mean a thing) and Gene Black’s rare guitar solos, all very perfect (did I already write that?). Little blues, little soul and sometimes it all sounds like a casino orchestra at 2am, especially when the dreadful electric piano is in action. It gets better with “N’oubliez jamais”, the audience cheering of course since there’s a few French words in that song. Then there’s that “You are so beautiful” and all women in the audience are overcome with love and sing the refrain, which sounds quite horrible I must say. And then it’s “I put a spell on you”, a bit dull I’m afraid, except for the guitar solo (geez!) and the support of the Hammond organ. The crowd likes it, that is, and Joe Cocker says, “Thank you Colmar, we’ve been on the road for so long, 40 years!”
Then the backing vocalists start to sway their hips… Yes, it’s “You can leave your hat on”, of course. Works like musical aphrodisiac it seems, as the young couples in front of us get closer to each other after Madame had made languorous eyes at Monsieur. Actually, all women in the hall seem to think they are Kim Basinger at this point, although the male part of the audience doesn’t seem to agree too much.
Then comes “The Letter”. FM sound stamped 1995 this time, a bit embarrassing but certainly less than the almost pure disco sound of “Unchain my heart” that follows. I never liked that song. They play it ponderously, which makes it longer and more painful to my ears, but the crowd stands up as one man. They like it! There is a perfect moment that is, which is the sax solo. Solos! Actually, he sounds as if he is improvising, but he probably isn’t. Improvising? C’mon!
And finally, the grand moment a part of the crowd has been waiting for since the beginning of the show, “With a little help from my friends”. I must say he does this last song of the gig perfectly, the famous two screeches being perfectly executed, and even if it’s a shortened version it seems (not Woodstock’s 8 minutes), and doubling the tempo at the end works perfectly. Yes, all perfect now, and Joe Cocker’s voice is superb I must say, maybe it’s the Corona that’s waiting for him backstage.
Corona By the way, we found on the Web a very interesting list (well) of Mr Cocker’s requirements to all concert organisers. It reads; ‘Joe Cocker’s dressing room: to be prepared by 6 pm. Food: 1 bowl of fresh, assorted, uncut fruit (to include banana). Drinks: ice chest with lots of ice, containing only the beer. 4 litres of Evian water. 4 bottles of Gatorade (lemon lime), 8 cans of diet Coke, 8 bottles of Corona beer. Beer to be iced at 6pm, re-iced at 8pm and again at 10:45pm (“Little Help”). Clean cubed (not crushed) ice for drinks – 8pm & 10:45, only beer to be iced. After show: (approx. 10 minutes after the end of the show), one serving of traditional Shepherds pie, with a side of baked beans will be required each show night after the performance. To be advised by the Tour Manager if needed. Fresh clean ice for drinks after show.’ Well, all that plus what’s to be prepared on stage (20 cans of beer for the whole band, diet Sprite, Evian, Gatorade and so on.) They are heavy on drinks it seems!
But it’s time for the first encore, a song that I didn’t know - quite good - and then “Cry me a river”, where the drummer sounds like if he was with the Spinal Tap. The crowd cheers, so there’s going to be a second encore, John Fogerty’s beautiful “Long as I can see the light”, from Joe Cocker’s latest album “Hymn for my soul”. A small part of the audience hisses (pearls before swine, *ssh*les!) but it really is the best part of the show. I’d love to go see Mr Cocker singing only this kind of music, I’m sure he would be brilliant. But like all great musicians he’s probably a prisoner of his repertoire…
«We love you, keep rocking, we’ll be back!» are Joe Cocker’s last words before he leaves the stage for good, and probably for more beer, ending a true live encyclopaedia of soul rock hits. Mrs Serge tells me that she didn’t know that Joe Cocker had created so many hits, so I feel I have to tell her that what we just heard was some Creedence Clearwater Revival (-who?), and that what we had heard before was some Beatles (-ah!), some Julie London (-who?), some Box Tops (-who?), some Screamin' Jay Hawkins (-who?), some Aretha Franklin (-rings a bell!), some Lovin’ Spoonful (-who?) or some Buffy Sainte-Marie (-who?). Yes, Mrs Serge isn't into rock and roll. As for Joe Cocker, sure he delivered (“a touching and sincere travel though time” wrote the local press), but again, we’d have preferred something less polished. Maybe less professional and less for all public, in fact, just like what he was probably doing in that Sheffield pub where he used to play in the early sixties. But that’s being a bit too demanding I guess. Sorry. - Serge Rock and Roll

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