Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Max Weinberg 7 concert review

A version of my review originally appeared at: Thanks to Kelly A. Swift for her photos.

The Max Weinberg 7 featuring Bill Champlin launched the Infinity Summer Concert Series at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach with an impressive mix of soul, R&B and classic pop/rock.

Boasting a two-man horn section, it was a different lineup than the one who appeared alongside Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band drummer Weinberg on “Late Night” and the “Tonight Show” with Conan O’Brien.

Despite a moderate turnout, the group delivered a highly enjoyable 90-minute performance.

Singer/keyboardist Champlin first gained prominence with psychedelic rockers Sons of Champlin in the ‘60s, was a sought after background singer/songwriter (Boz Scaggs, George Benson, REO Speedwagon) in the ‘70s/early ‘80s and spent more than 25 years as a member of Chicago. He had the primary spotlight at the hotel’s intimate outdoor amphitheatre, which is surrounded by lush greenery.

Last year, Weinberg also did kickoff duty at the smooth jazz-oriented concert series with his 15-piece swing band. Prior to the show on Friday night, Weinberg praised the lovely setting and enthusiastic crowds.

Max Weinberg, Mindi Abair, Bill Champlin at pre-show
“You’ve got a great lifestyle here; I hope to make it an annual thing.” He told me there are no plans to record an album with either combo. “I’ve done enough of them in my time.”

After mentioning that I saw his young son Jay keep the beat for popular Florida alt-rock band Against Me! this past January at Chain Reaction, Weinberg reminded that they are on the Vans Warped Tour this summer (the Pomona Fairplex stop is July 1) and said he and wife Becky “go and see them play whenever we can.”

Champlin was a bit skeptical when Weinberg’s manager came up with the idea for an O.C. concert collaboration. “I thought it really wasn’t my thing,” he admitted, regarding the drummer’s TV music work, “then I saw some Springsteen clips on YouTube” and felt “this could really work.”

Indeed it did.

Since Clarence Clemons – Weinberg’s longtime band mate in the E Street Band – passed away on June 18, many audience members probably wondered whether any tribute to the saxophonist known as The Big Man would be part of the set. There was one, but not until the very end.

“This song has a stupid beat. Anyone can play it, but it’s one of my favorites to do live,” said Weinberg, about “Ramrod” (from Springsteen’s The River), while standing behind his drum kit.

“It is for a beloved friend of ours, Clarence Clemons. When we recorded it and he first came up with the solo in the middle, all of our mouths dropped open. Bruce said, ‘sax players are going to be auditioning with that solo for years to come.’ Clarence had the biggest heart and will always be remembered for his comradeship and love he spread all over the world.”

Suddenly, the entire group and special guest sax player Mindi Abair went into party mode and several people in the crowd stood up and danced.

Weinberg in action
Earlier in the concert, Weinberg introduced the evening as a “melding of East and West. I’m from New Jersey, as many of you may have heard,” while Champlin hails from the Bay Area.

Both men continually injected humor into the proceedings; the latter’s quips were often of the self-deprecating variety.

The drummer had a blast during a sleek take on one of his favorite Booker T. & the MG’s tracks, “Can’t Be Still,” where the musicians clapped along and took solo turns.

Champlin’s simmering organ work on Chicago’s “Hearts in Trouble” (from the soundtrack to Tom Cruise flick Days of Thunder) was elevated by a searing electric guitar workout from Carmen Grillo. A Tower of Power alumnus, his musical history with Bill dates back to 1981 and continues with the current Sons of Champlin live incarnation.

Champlin at the organ
A New Orleans-style groove enveloped the TV theme to “In the Heat of the Night,” where Champlin’s soulful falsetto was in top form.

His keyboardist son Will ably handled lead vocals on an upbeat and jaunty version of Dave Edmunds’ “Deep in the Heart of Texas” (off 1982’s D.E. 7th). Weinberg gave it a pummeling finish.

Later, Grillo took the vocal reigns on an equally soulful run through Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789 (Soulsville U.S.A.).”

The sexy spark plug that is Abair immediately got the crowd riled up during a spirited delivery on Dave Koz’s “Wake Up Call.” She traded horn riffs with Tom Saviano in what Weinberg called “saxual healing.”

Bill Champlin sang a jazzy arrangement of “Turn Your Love Around,” his hit composition for Benson. The marvelously subtle take on lesser known Springsteen tune “The Fever” found Steve Madaio playing quiet trumpet, Weinberg pausing to snap his fingers, full group harmonies and bassist Bobby Watson egging the audience on as they sang the chorus.    

The Weinberg 7 at work
“Headed for the Top” (from Bill Champlin’s 1992 album Burn Down the Night) was jokingly described as a “good tune to shoplift by.”

Punctuated by Weinberg’s lively drum work and Saviano’s fluttering sax solo, Abair rejoined the group halfway through for some fantastic, wild runs.
Then Champlin was front and center with acoustic guitar for a quiet, emotional version of the Chicago hit “Look Away,” which he originally sang on.

The band played quietly at first and later came on strong.

Next up for the Hyatt concert series: Jeff Lorber Fusion with Eric Marienthal and Paul Jackson Jr., July 1, 

Champlin and his family band are at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, July 7,

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