It would appear to be a winning combination. Two seminal British artists of the late '60s, two instantly identifiable voices, one great song they share in common. That was the set-up for what would seem an ideal double bill at the Hard Rock, one that offered both nostalgia and the potential for a pair of captivating performances within the scope of a single show. It certainly set a high bar, at least in terms of anticipation. Happily, both Cocker and Mason delivered, at least to the crowd's satisfaction.
Still, from the start, the two performers offered mixed messages. Mason's brief 35 minute, six song set was all acoustic and mostly made up of tunes from his back pages, with nothing more current than a song that's 35 years old. Accompanied by his longtime touring partner -- guitarist John Sambataro of Hollywood -- he offered a brief personal history, drawing the song "World In Changes" from his first (and best) solo album
Mason then delved back even further, specifically to his tenure with Traffic. Although his choice of "Dear Mr. Fantasy" was curious to say the least, given he never actually sang that song and had no hand in its composition. Mason went on to offer "All Along the Watchtower," the song he famously helped Jimi Hendrix record and later appropriated as his own. He then went only so far forward as "We Just Disagree," his final chart entry and a subsequent a top ten country hit for singer Billy Dean.
Mason peppered the history lesson with some commentary, but given the fact his name was given equal prominence on the marquee, his brief set seemed to place him more in the position of an opening act and not necessarily worthy of co-billing.
Mason did reappear briefly early in Joe Cocker's 15 song set, sharing the mike for an obligatory duet on "Feelin' Alright," the song that became a trademark tune for both men. Nevertheless, what could have been the evening's incendiary moment merely seemed perfunctory at best. Neither man put much energy into the performance, and Mason in particular seemed content to merely chime in on the choruses, an odd circumstance considering he was the one who wrote it.
Cocker's appearance onstage after a 20 minute intermission was greeted warmly by the audience who would go on to give him several standing ovations throughout the evening, Looking dapper, clad all in the black, the now-balding rocker took command of the stage early on as only a seasoned showman could. Cocker still possesses the gritty, gruff vocals that reflect his trademark tone, he also gave the impression he wasn't sufficiently warmed up enough to give that extra jolt of adrenalin that the songs required. He admitted as much early on, and his general lack of repartee with the audience and tentative stage mannerisms seemed indicative of his reserve overall. The fact that this was the first in a brief string of six shows, coming after several months of respite from the road, likely had a lot to do with it.
To be sure, the herky-jerky movements and inexplicable twitching that have characterized his posturing from early on remain, although his characteristic movements are considerably toned down. Likewise, while he's still capable of an occasional yelp and the ability to hit the high notes, he's far less fiery than his earlier offerings once indicated. His read of "You Are So Beautiful" conveyed more fragility than finesse, although his other notable ballad, a stirring "Up Where We Belong" managed to make for an incendiary moment regardless.
Happily, the six piece backing band and two female vocalists showed they were more than capable of replicating the studio arrangements and mostly seemed adept at doing more with less. Indeed, by the end of the approximately hour and 45 minute set, the energy finally seemed to ignite. Cocker performed a nine minute version of his signature song, and perennial Woodstock classic, "With a Little Help from My Friends," prefaced a three song encore -- "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," "Cry Me a River," and "High Time We Went" that had the crowd on their feet and boogying along with the band.
All in all, given a little help from his friends, Cocker's performance proved a welcome -- although a somewhat less than entirely satisfying -- return.
Personal bias: The one song I was humming to myself on the way out was one of the ones he didn't do, "Delta Lady." It would have been nice to hear "Something" and "Just Like a Woman" as well.
The crowd: Older, naturally, but still enthusiastic. In marked contrast to audiences of his earlier era, the thing most people seemed to be passing around was breath minutes, or so it seemed from those seated in front of us.
By the way: My wife Alisa does a mean boogie dance. I've rarely seen her get so motivated by the music.
"World in Changes "
"Dear Mr. Fantasy"
"We Just Disagree"
"Can't Stop Worrying, Can't Stop Loving"
"All Along the Watchtower"
"When the Night Comes"
"Feelin' Alright (Cocker, Mason duet)"
"Up Where We Belong"
"You Are So Beautiful"
"You Can Leave Your Hat On"
"Unchain My Heart"
"With A LIttle From My Friends"
"She Came in Through the Bathroom Window"
"Cry Me a River"
"High Time We Went"