Grist From the Mill

Music Awards Showcase once again makes a virtue of excess

He also showed himself to possess enough bratty attitude to make most self-proclaimed divas flinch. Sample patter: "This is a song about death." Audience member: "'Free Bird!'" Wainwright: "'Free Bird'? Get her out of here! Somebody get that girl a drink!"

Beyond his miraculous pipes and charismatic fragility, the openly gay Wainwright has something of a Judy Garland-in-reverse effect working for him. Whereas Garland earned sobs of empathy from gay males every time she mourned "The Man That Got Away," Wainwright draws some of the same nods of recognition from straight females when he sings: "I don't want to hold you and feel so helpless/I don't want to smell you and lose my senses."

Wainwright's dazzling display was only slightly sullied for me by a group of noisy frat-boy pseudo-jocks who apparently took a wrong turn on their way to McDuffy's and planted themselves right next to my table. Throughout Wainwright's set, they drunkenly bragged of their prowess with the other gender, and their only acknowledgement that there was a musician onstage came when one of the pinheads said to his friend: "He's no Billy Joel."

Next to Wainwright's offhand grace, opening act Ben Lee couldn't help but be outclassed. Lee's heart is in the right place, and his naive passion is never less than endearing, but he often falls into the sizable gulf between aspiration and achievement. When he was backed by his solid band, the results were palatable, but a solo version of Dylan's done-to-death "Don't Think Twice" was not only obvious (Mike Ness performed a solo version of the same song on 120 Minutes three days earlier) but painfully overwrought. The whole point of the song--a sly, understated denial of evident heartache--got buried in Lee's hysterical, mike-eating rendition.

Alice's Repertoire: My favorite piece of trivia in the booklet for Alice Cooper's new four-CD Rhino boxed set: Alice's revelation that he was backstage when Frank Sinatra covered his 1977 hit ballad "You and Me" at a Hollywood Bowl concert. According to Cooper, Sinatra came off stage and said to him, "You keep writing 'em, kid, I'll keep singing 'em."

--Gilbert Garcia

Contact Gilbert Garcia at his online address: ggarcia@newtimes.com

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