A guitar in her hand and sex on her mind
Sunday 14 July 1996
To those with cloth for ears, Joan Osborne sounds like Alanis Morissette, Liz Phair, Tori Amos and assorted angsty femmes with guitars in their hands and sex on their minds. Certainly, there's lust and an element of the confessional to her lyrics - "When I play music, it turns me on," she has perhaps unwisely said - but Osborne's self-analysis is droll, not shrill, her stories just as frequently vignettes about others' lives, and her voice is a smoky Kentuckian husk, moving from Mavis Staples soul to the sepia yodel of Appalachian country.
She also unleashes a pyrotechnic swoop reminiscent of Les Voix Bulgares, and this kicked off her show at Milton Keynes Bowl. Those cadences herald "Pensacola", a gospel threnody that fitted her cod-choirboy outfit: leggings and a shapeless white tunic. She followed with the lewd "Right Hand Man" and it was to her credit that she communicated heat to a 60,000-strong crowd earlier dampened by a downpour. For this tale of a relentless sex session, Erik Della Penna's harmonica ground its hips against Joan's suitably hoarse vocal, her words - "Use me up / If you think you can" - an unsettling come-on. Joan, however, is no victim. "Right Hand Man" - unless, as some suggest, it's a masturbation trip - shows a woman as full of testosterone as her lover, and she kept belting it out even when headliners Bon Jovi arrived in their helicopter, sensitively circling the Bowl a time or two.
During "One Of Us", wrongly branded an evangelical tambourine-basher, the sun came out. Then, after a break to get close with the audience - "You in the black T-shirt ... You! You! You're sustaining me!" - she showed she's no stranger to subtlety with the suicide note "Crazy Baby", distant thunder echoing ominous drums. There were occasional bum notes but for the most part Joan, with her nose-ring and conscience (she's active in America's Pro-Choice lobby), proved herself an accomplished hillbilly philosopher.
Bon Jovi opened with a shiny brass band, interspersed their set with crowd-pleasing fireworks and turned the stage into a three-ring circus with backdrops of strong men and painted ladies, while Jon sported a Hawkeye- style outfit, open to the waist. Though the New Jersey hairdresser's son has lately become a thespian and each of the band has found domestic bliss, there was no lack of macho sonic thrust. Maintaining "ah'm jus' screamin' for lurve," Jon delivered the hallmark hits, from "Bad Medicine" to "Wanted Dead or Alive", plus a general rock repertoire. Squint during "Jumpin' Jack Flash", and you'd think it was the Stones. "You sound like you're from Paris or somethin'," he warned the crowd, though they were either singing deafeningly or, during tender, blue-collar ballads, crooning in each other's arms. Everyone got what they paid for - seamless pop-metal from the masters of stadium rock - and dudes not joining in must have felt like interlopers at a revivalist meeting.
More believers in music as a source of ecstatic experience, Kula Shaker did their best to make the Brixton Academy an ear-busting ashram on Monday. Prime mover is Crispian Mills, a heavy-lipped Brian Jones type who's the son of Hayley and grandson of Sir John. A mesh of Hammond organ, sitars and psychotropic wah-wah, Shaker are Sixties power-prog rock, a cross between Pink Floyd, Santana and Revolver-era Beatles. Mills and bassist Alonzo Bevin (a man "very much into astral projection") shared Hendrixy guitar, and they delivered "Grateful When You're Dead" (a slap in the face to Jerry Garcia) and "Tattva" with dissolute verve, then dedicated "Hush" to George Harrison. Very Zen, but Kula Shaker have still to prove they're more than copyists.
"We were on stage, and Don Felder looks at me and says, 'Only three more songs until I kick your ass, pal'. '' Glenn Frey, recounting The Eagles' last stand, at a 1980 benefit in Long Beach, California. After eight years together, the hippies who'd started out in patched jeans and turquoise were the richest band in the world, and blasted out of their minds on a surfeit of coke, booze, broads, ulcers and mutual hatred. They promised they'd reunite "when hell freezes over" but here they are: older, wiser, therapised and straight.
The most surprising moment was when the giant video screens clicked on at Huddersfield's Alfred McAlpine Stadium on Thursday because, though close up they look like Mount Rushmore, the Eagles still harmonise like boys. Lambasted for commercialising the country-rock of Gram Parsons and the Byrds, they nevertheless uniquely satirised the American Dream, in lyrics and in lifestyle.
Taking to a stage decked out in cardboard desert sierras, Glenn Frey announced, "Tonight we're gonna do ... uh ... anything we can remember"; there followed a 27-number set, including out-takes - like Don Henley's shimmering "Boys of Summer" - from solo adventures. It was the classics you thought you'd tired of that sounded best: "Hotel California", a Smokey Robinson- smooth "I Can't Tell You Why", "Already Gone" and Joe Walsh's R&B blaster "Rocky Mountain Way". Walsh's energy gave the band a final spurt when he joined in the mid-Seventies, and his raddled exuberance and humour is really what powers it live. "Everybody's so different / We haven't changed", he roared with irony on "Life's Been Good". And, though he's wrong, in a way he's right.
The Eagles: Wembley Stadium (0181 900 1234), tonight; then touring.
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