AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Madalyn Ruggiero)
Thursday, May 21, 2009 | 3:32 p.m.
Beyond the Sun
Joe Cocker celebrated his 65th birthday Wednesday night -- with a little help from his friends.
Joe Cocker, senior citizen. In Primm. Perfect.
Balding with a paunch, Cocker somehow looks better than he did at Woodstock – all crazed hair and electrified jerks and jolts. (Truth be told, Cocker also looks better than me and most of the fans who filled about two-thirds of the Star of the Desert Arena.)
He still possesses one of the most distinctive voices -- and the most amazing scream -- in rock, past or present And his famous spasms have mellowed over the years to the point where it’s obvious that he’s directing the band.
And it’s quite a band, with Mike Finnigan on Hammond organ, Nick Milo on piano, Gene Black on guitar, Norbert Fimple on sax and percussion, anchored by Jack Bruno on drums and Oneida James-Rebeccu on bass.
Showing no signs of retiring to clip coupons, Cocker’s in the middle of a four-month U.S. tour.
There have been times in his 40-year career when Cocker’s gruff voice seemed debilitated by drugs and booze. But on Wednesday, his stripped-raw voice sounded strong in all its weird and wonderful glory, reinventing songs by the Beatles, Randy Newman, Ray Charles, Leon Russell and others. in a fast-paced 16-song set that ran close to an hour and 40 minutes.
“Hitchcock Railway” opened with a recipe for disaster -- the band too loud as the soundman tried to dial up the vocals.
But order was restored by the second song as Milo chopped out the familiar opening riff and James-Rebeccu swayed to that familiar Carol Kaye bass line of “Feelin’ Alright.”
Hit after hit followed – “The Letter,” “When the Night Comes,” “Up Where We Belong,” “Shelter Me.” A pared-down ensemble (Milo, Finnigan and James- James-Rebeccu) backed Cocker for an eerie take on his trademark, “You Are So Beautiful.”
The hit parade picked up steam with a wild “Come Together,” “Hymn for My Soul” and sexy versions of “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and “Unchain My Heart.” Finally, Finnigan spun out the rolling organ intro on “Little Help From My Friends” and Cocker worked his magic.
The evening seemed complete. How could he beat that?
Then he returned with a three-punch encore: “Delta Lady,” “She Came in Through the Bathoom Window” and “Cry Me a River.”
And still he somehow saved the best for last, coming back for a second encore with his reworking of John Fogerty’s “Long as I Can See the Light” laced with doleful dobro lines from Clark.
Happy birthday, Joe. Glad you didn’t decide to retire.