Cracky is an on-time sort of fellow, but especially so when he drops over $50 on a ticket. I’m getting my money’s worth from a show, even if it means showing up early to catch an opening act consisting of tone-deaf, cross-dressing Pussycat Doll rejects. Fortunately, I was actually looking forward to seeing Raphael Saadiq open this show. I think I first saw him on SoulStage, and I was digging the old-school Motown groove. Saadiq is clearly not Tony! Toni! nor Tone-deaf… he’s got the right vibe to pull it off, and looked good in his mustard suit and skinny tie. It was enough to get me to download some of his tunes and add them to the rotation. The mustard suit was also enough to make me go get a hot dog. I should clarify that it was a mustard-colored suit, not a suit made out of mustard. That's too Gaga-esque.
Unfortunately, the opening set did not even come close to clearing the bar I put up there. First off, he came on stage with some shiny high-top sneakers, a hoodie and a jean jacket. Come on, man, I see that on the train every day. Put on the skinny suit and look the part. I was dressed better than he was and most days I'm lucky if I remember to wear pants. Second, I don’t remember him singing all that much. There was some prancing around, some guitar hero moves, some horseplay with the bandmates, some gratuitous Chicago banter, when all I really wanted him to do was step up to that mike and fuel that theatre with some Motown energy instead of turning it into an abandoned Motor City auto plant. Third, what was with the cheesy blues tune? I hope that wasn’t just for Chicago, because we have standards here. Don’t act like your guitarist is Albert King and we’ve never seen a blues solo before. Finally, I will admit, it wasn’t all your fault. It’s as if the Chicago Theatre sound guy decided to skip the opening act and send his accountant to run the board. It wasn’t nearly as loud as it should have been, and all I was hearing was mostly drums and some keyboards. I felt as if I were listening to the show in a fish tank with one of those little scuba diver statues stuck in each ear canal. Come on, Chicago Theatre, don’t treat the opener like Kibbles n’ Bits when you have bacon-wrapped dates on the plate. The highlight of the set was when he let his keyboard player, Charles Jones, take over the vocals on a tune, and that dude put more heart and soul into his performance than I had seen all night. Except for Puppet Bike, which was parked outside the theatre before the show. Always love a Puppet Bike sighting. But I digress.
Finally, Lenny and his band took the stage. Rock stars. That’s pretty much my review right there. Every one of them looked the part, had the attitude, and backed it up with unquestionable talent. Not one of them looked like they wandered in off the street after their shift at Maggiano’s. I loved that the white guitar player had the biggest afro on the stage and that the girl on bass was one of those females who can rock the shaved head look with aplomb, each one playing wingman to Lenny, who stood front and center. There was no doubt that this was their only choice in life. You can’t stash a genuine rock star in a cubicle or force them to wear a nametag.
The horn section was well-represented, and Lenny is cool enough to let them leave the confines of the brass platform to which they are normally relegated by most bandleaders. Lenny relinquished the spotlight willingly, the reason obvious as their solos, true solos with no other accompaniment, captivated the audience. I exaggerate. They captivated me, while others in the audience were busy taking drink orders or checking their email. Look, I know you all came to hear “Fly Away”, but you paid a lot of money to hear that one song. Pay attention and spread that ticket cost over the rest of this show like you slather that mayo over your bologna sandwiches, you bloated noisemakers.
Most of the audience was clearly there to hear the hits and he delivered; however, the new material from last year’s Black and White America held up with the rest and I recommend checking it out. He's got an interesting bio and you can catch some of it in the video for the title cut.
Lenny is just a general rock and roll badass. He knows how to write a catchy tune, he knows how to play that guitar, he knows how to keep an audience engaged, and I bet he can even make a mean Denver omelet. Crack Approved.