The Lefsetz Letter: The Classic


DAY ONE

They came for the Eagles.

And they were not disappointed.

"We used to have festivals like this in the sixties…
Now we are sixty!"

Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers

They opened. To a half-full stadium. No one can get anywhere on time in Los Angeles, and they don't seem to believe anything will start on time, they think the whole world is waiting for them or…

They just don't care.

Now the Doobies' heyday was in the mid-seventies. They dominated not only the airwaves, but the TV shows, they seemed to be on "In Concert" every Friday night. Then they segued into a different band, just as successful, with Michael McDonald up front, but now it's the original act on the road, seamless, playing the hits and the album tracks and if you're a fan, and I am, it was great to hear "Spirit" and "Clear As The Driven Snow"…


Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

The people were there to listen to the music.

That's the funny thing about a show like this, everybody knows every word. Everybody's paying attention. It's a celebration of what once was, of survival. Most people were in the demo, baby boomers, Gen-X'ers, they'd lived through it, they looked a little worse for wear, but their enjoyment of the proceedings was equivalent to what it was back in '75, you see music is in their DNA. Their parents had the big bands, Sinatra, but they didn't assemble in stadiums to see them forty years hence.

But that's the power of rock and roll.

And rock and roll…

We were all infected. Call it the Beatles, say it was the British Invasion. But you're watching the Doobies and you can see all the practice, all the failed bands before they broke through. You paid your dues, fame was not instant, and if you made it and lasted you could tour forever.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Billy Payne was tickling the ivories for the band. Did I ever tell you I saw Little Feat at the Troubadour? After "Dixie Chicken"?

And the highlight of Steely Dan was Larry Carlton, subbing for an ill Walter Becker. He had the score on a stand, he was reading his part, except for "Kid Charlemagne," upon which he appeared on the original. And it was a marvel. Does anybody have this skill anymore? And despite everybody playing a Gibson, everybody playing the guitar, Larry sounded only like himself. For all the guitar gods, he was on another level. The Steely Dan band is something you never get anymore, twelve people on stage, a full horn section, three backup singers, it's about the sound more than the cash. Well, I think they like the cash, but they wouldn't want to put on any less of a show. This is what they do. And it's great to hear Donald sing the lines about SoCal, but the highlight for me, other than the aforementioned Mr. Carlton, was the rendition of "Dirty Work." Fagen gave props to David Palmer, who sang it on record, but the three backup singers traded lines and as the warm wind wafted over us on a Saturday night in SoCal one asked if there was anywhere you'd rather be. This same show is gonna play in two weeks in New York. But it could rain. It won't be the same. Everybody will be self-satisfied, that's the essence of an east coaster, whereas those in L.A…

Want to take it easy.

Now what kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where Glenn Frey dies and the Eagles are BETTER?

I know that sounds impossible, but it's true.

Who do we credit?

Of course tons of rehearsal, the show was perfection, Henley would expect nothing less, but the secret sauce was…

Vince Gill. The man who replaced Craig Fuller in Pure Prairie League. The golfer with the great rep who's seen as such a nice guy that one would figure he couldn't fit in with the bad boys of Southern California.

But he did!

Picture this. On one end you've got Timothy B., on bass. And then Gill. And then Henley, strumming his guitar. And then Deacon Frey. And then Joe Walsh and Steuart Smith. That's right, SIX AXES! The most I've ever seen in rock or country. Hell, Keith Urban has a front line of four, but SIX!

And when the band took the stage there was a roar. The stadium was full, the assembled multitude was levitating, as Deacon Frey sang…

"Well, I'm runnin' down the road tryin' to loosen my load"

And we were all jetted back to 1972, when we were thin and had hair, when our lives were in front of us as opposed to behind.

And the hi-def screen is showing images and the production is so exquisite that you can only say one thing.

THE EAGLES ARE BACK! They've reclaimed their perch at the top of America's rock and roll hierarchy.

You may not agree. But what other band performs and each and every audience member knows all the words by heart? No one went to the bathroom, people were not distracted by their phones, they were listening to their lives.

It was definitely one of those nights.

You see it's about songs. And the Eagles, or just "Eagles," as Henley would prefer it, wanted to reach a pinnacle others did not. There are no clunkers, every song's a gem, and it's played better than acts half their age and…

Yes, you know the material. Timothy B. does "I Can't Tell You Why" and Joe Walsh does "Life's Been Good," and of course, "Rocky Mountain Way," and the horns were great accents in "Funk #49." And the great surprise, with so many on stage, strings too, was "The Last Resort" and then…

They reworked "Witchy Woman," and unlike Dylan, the song was still recognizable and fresh and just as good.

Vince sang Randy's "Take It To The Limit." Glenn's "Lyin' Eyes." And Henley, the sole surviving member of the original group, was even humble, deferring to Glenn in the sky, and the audience perched in the rafters.

And, of course, Bob Seger came out and sang "Heartache Tonight," like he was gonna have a heart attack, like the PA had gone out and he had to reach every last customer with his lungs.

And to hear "Hotel California" in Southern California? My life flashed in front of my eyes. Dropping the needle on that for the very first time, before it was on the radio, on the day it was released and…

The closer was "Desperado."

We are desperados no longer. The book has been written. We're living in the afterword. We're not gonna start a tech company and make billions and we don't really want to. We're all about lifestyle. Good wine, good food and good travel. Along with grandkids, if you've got 'em.

But when our heroes strap on their guitars and the sound pours out of the speakers we're twenty one once again. We still believe in not only the music, but ourselves. We think there's a whole road in front of us and we're not stopping for supplies until we reach Winslow, Arizona.

It was that kind of night. We found out in the long run that we and the music still matter.

It was a concert not a festival. We didn't mill around and converse, show off our duds, no we sat (and stood!) in rapt attention as the soundtrack of our lives was played on stage.

I'm still tingling.


DAY TWO-GOLD DUST WOMAN


"Well did she make you cry
Make you break down
Shatter your illusions of love"

Fleetwood Mac was a band that was always around, kinda like Savoy Brown, although that latter ever-changing outfit ultimately evolved into Foghat and perfected boogie rock and doesn't get enough respect for it.

And to be honest, to see Peter Green today would float my boat.

But that's not the iteration of Fleetwood Mac that got famous, that broke the bank.

The first time I saw them live was the summer of '75, just when the "White Album" had gotten traction, when "Over My Head" was all over the radio, before Stevie Nicks became a witch/goddess/icon. And from there to the Hollywood Bowl to Staples to… Then I gave up, because they were missing an element.

Christine.

Stevie gets all the press, but isn't Christine Perfect McVie the classic female rock icon? A tough chick with a side of softness who can hang with the boys?

And she had no kids.

You see musicians are different. Not like you and me. They were not popular, they weren't cool, they hung out with a separate crowd and were denigrated until some of them became…

World heroes.

Anyway, Earth, Wind & Fire was a revelation. You could see what Phil Collins, another underrated player, saw in Philip Bailey. The white suits, the choreography, the vocals…they got everybody in attendance clapping and dancing, moving in a way that is the essence of music.

As for Journey…

They missed the boat. They thought they were playing to a stadium BEHIND Dodger Stadium. They cranked it up loud, the set was frenetic and Arnel's vocals were buried and one had to ask…WHAT WERE THEY TRYING TO PROVE?

Neal Schon is an excellent player, but he was so busy showing us how many notes he could play…his solo was best when he slowed down.

But the secret genius was Steve Smith, even before his drum solo, this guy has got chops, after all Journey was nearly a prog rock band made up of excellent players before Steve Perry joined. And they sang all of Sherrie's boyfriend's songs, but Arnel was doing his Mick Jagger, where he didn't finish the words, didn't enunciate, but I did love hearing "Stone In Love" and everybody sang along with "Don't Stop Believin'," but instead of ending the show there they came back for an encore that was a let-down and it's just…they were playing like the headliners and they were not and it stuck out like a sore thumb and I'll tell you one thing that's amazing, Arnel's FIFTY! But I'd slow it down a notch, turn it down a notch, because almost no one I ran into had a good word to say about Journey, but Fleetwood Mac…

Henley's about perfection.

Fleetwood Mac started out rough.

Well, not exactly. It's just that the vocal harmonies were not perfect.

And that's when you noticed, there were no hard drives filling out the sound, giving the audience a simulation of the real thing that made them feel good but deprived them of…

The music.

Now Fleetwood Mac is called that because of the rhythm section, and you marvel at John McVie, who's led the musician life, who says nothing, but fills out the bottom and gets applause for his famous bass lines. Yes, the audience knew the material, but the girls, and there were young 'uns tonight, were there to see Stevie Nicks.

Yet it's really Lindsey's band. To see him picking on the big screen was to make your jaw drop. He's only himself, anything but generic, and that's what makes him and the band so special.

And they are special. Fleetwood Mac is about a sound. Few of their songs are covered. It's about the ensemble, the way they do the numbers, they can be imitated, but not really copied.

And that's when I realized…they were a living, breathing band. Not locked in step, but playing the music, feeling it out along the way. I was close enough to see the mic fall on Stevie Nicks, but the screens were dark, anybody worried about their image would have let it go, not commented, but Stevie laughed and said this was the first time this had ever happened to her, the mic ATTACKED HER!

It was like being in your basement with your brother's high school band…

Only they were Fleetwood Mac.

They were the opposite of Journey, they were tight, but they were loose. They talked, but their patter wasn't rehearsed. And it wasn't riveting, but it wasn't generic, rock stars don't make it as actors because they can't talk, they can only sing and perform, and that's just what Fleetwood Mac did.

And as the set wore on you noticed everything was falling into place, the harmonies were aligned, all systems had been checked and tweaked and they were firing on all cylinders and all you could do was MARVEL!

The women surrounding me were singing every word, the applause was deafening, even exceeding that for the Eagles, and "I'm So Afraid" was a tour-de-force and "Little Lies" eclipsed the recorded take and "Landslide" was so meaningful you thought you were on your bedroom floor contemplating your life in the seventies but the highlight was…


"Gold Dust Woman."

That's how you know when an act is gigantic, when an album cut, never a single, is known by everybody by heart.

There's a bass line. A bit of drums. And you know it, you know what's coming, your heart starts to pitter-patter and then Stevie Nicks, the performer who transcends generations, steps up to the mic…

What are we supposed to do with this? What are we supposed to do with a has-been band playing old tunes that doesn't seem dated at all? That brings a freshness to the sounds known so well that make them seem on the cutting edge, as if they were just released yesterday.

It's the basics, the rhythm section, the aforementioned Fleetwood and McVie.

And Lindsey is the glue, the special sauce, they tried to replace him, but it didn't work.

But what puts it over the top is the balance, the three front people, the three writers, who all have different sounds, you can never be bored, you just wonder what's coming around the next corner.

Once upon a time our music had elements of darkness. Despite so many light Fleetwood Mac cuts triumphing, it was the chiaroscuro element, the shadows, that was so much of their appeal, in both the sound and their story, what exactly happened in Sausalito, why did two relationships break up. Too much alcohol? Too much success? Too much willfulness? We'll never know, but we're drawn to this story of humanity, in a world where everyone's trying to be sleek and bulletproof but it's not really that way at all.


"Rock on gold dust woman
Take your silver spoon
Dig your grave"


This was 1977, before most of the hoi polloi had any idea what cocaine was. When it was the drug of choice of musicians who wanted to work all night and feel no pain and…you at home, the doctors and lawyers, the bankers, you're afraid to color outside the lines, but the musicians are all about risk, and the thing about Fleetwood Mac is…

THEY'RE ALL HERE!

Doobie brothers are dead.

Walter Becker was too sick to show up.

Glenn Frey died.

Only three of twelve members of Earth, Wind & Fire are originals.

Steve Perry is absent.

But it's the originals, the same people standing in Fleetwood Mac, and that's positively AMAZING!

It's not gonna go on forever folks. Our heroes are dropping like flies. And who knows when Lindsey will take a left turn. And Stevie doesn't really need the rest, but on this night…

Mick is pounding, John is pulling, Lindsey's wailing, Christine is tickling and…

Stevie is SINGING!

And twirling.

Rock on ancient queen indeed!

It's when you're at one with the music, when you can think of nothing else, when you're thrusting your arm in the air that you know the performance is working, that the moment is transcendent, that you're living in the rock and roll flow.

She made me cry. THEY ALL made me cry!

I will never recover from my divorce, standing in front of friends and family, my ex saying it was forever, she'd never leave me, and then she did, my illusions of love were shattered.

And it took a long time for it to be over.

But I finally picked up the pieces and went home.

To Dodger Stadium, where something immutable, the music, never failed me, I could always count on it.

And when they came out for the encore and sang a note perfect rendition of "Don't Stop" all I could say to myself was DAMN STRAIGHT!

It's over now, Classic West is in the record books. And it wasn't a festival, it was a show, a concert, there was no grazing, and if you went and gave it your time and attention you were paid dividends no amount of money, no amount of fame, can deliver. All you had to do was buy a ticket and go. Have the music wash over you. Stand in the SoCal darkness and thank god you were alive, that you lived through this era, can hear this music, know this music…

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU ASK FOR?

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