January 15, 2012

Concert #619 - Albert Lee at McCabe's Guitar Shop (January 13, 2012)

After a long wait of twenty years or so, I finally had my chance to see someone I truly admired, the great Albert Lee, the devilishly great guitarist I first became aware of two decades ago on Mark O'Connor's "The American Music Shop". So there I was, sitting in the front row, dead center, I could have almost touched my hero, but instead of loving every minute of the show, I was unhappy.

A music-stand and a huge Korg synthesizer stood between my eyes and Albert's guitar and hands. For the entire duration of the show, Albert played either fully or partially hidden behind those things. That was disappointing. After all, I waited in line for close to two hours so that I could sit up-close and watch Albert's finger work. Here's a photo that shows what I mean:

Can you spot Albert Lee's guitar?

OK, so a humongous synthesizer blocked the view of some of the spectators. That would have been tolerable had someone actually played the darn thing. But no - the Korg just sat there unused until late in the show, when Albert accompanied himself on keyboards for the playing of two ballads. 

But enough venting. There were plenty of positives to talk about, which I recognized even while being unhappy. Albert is a guitarist like few others. His blistering solos were something to behold. And he can sing, too. While on CD he sounds like an OK singer, I was surprised about how good a singer he actually is. Clearly, he is getting better with age, and that is quite a compliment, considering that Albert has been on the road for fifty-two years, as he told us last night. 

Albert may hail from Great Britain, but his set consisted almost exclusively of older American songs, originally recorded by the likes of Fats Domino, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Carl Perkins, the Everly Brothers, Little Feat, Rodney Crowell and others. In that sense, Albert reminds me a bit of Dave Edmunds, another British guitar wizard with somewhat similar musical interests. To me, the best songs were John Stewart's "Runaway Train", Ray Charles' "Leave My Woman Alone" and "Spellbound".
The set list
The final song of Albert's set was "Country Boy", a number that I've heard many times over the years without knowing who penned the song. Now I know - Albert himself is one of the co-writers! Here's a high definition YouTube clip showing Albert's outstanding treatment of "Country Boy":

Alexandra Lee, Albert's singing daughter, took the stage to perform Emmylou Harris' "Luxury Liner" and Gram Parsons' "She". No doubt, Alexandra can sing, but she appeared exceedingly nervous up there on the stage.

Albert Lee and daughter Alex Lee at McCabe's
Albert Lee came out with Will McGregor (bass), JT Thomas (keys) and Jason Smith (drums) - they played well together in spite of having had only one rehearsal under their belt. Albert told us that the band had showed up late, so they had no time for a proper pre-show sound check. The first song of the evening, Fats Domino's "I'm Ready", served as the de-facto sound check: it did not sound good when it started, but by the time it ended, everything was in good balance.

Albert Lee singing

Albert Lee signing merchandise after the show
The stage before the show
Musically speaking, the show was exceptionally good, yet I went home with a sense of disappointment. I did get to see Albert Lee in concert, that was great, but the overall experience could have been better. Five of my regular concert-going friends were in the room - although seated in different areas, they all had some trouble seeing Albert's guitar and fingers. We all hope and pray for Albert Lee's return to McCabe's, sometime soon, with nothing placed between him and his fans. 


  1. This sounds like a problem with McCabe more than Albert himself. He is used to dealing with people who usually do all this sort of thing well. Although I have been to gigs where fans who sit near the stage can experience the same sort of thing with view. The theatre usually advises.

    I thought your comment was perceptive though. I think Albert Lee relies a little too much on others doing things for him and doesn't think of the real effect that can have on fans. I am amazed that you even knew this gig was going on as it is not advertised much further than the LA area.

    His daughter has a beautiful voice, but not a confident performer, I agree, possibly because she has very little experience of being on stage on her own or with other people. She needs to find her own metier, I think. I think the song 'She' is inappropriate for her for this reason. If anything, Albert should have sung this! Then let the fans decide who can 'sing so well'.

    It would be nice if Albert did think of his fans a little more from the aspect you describe and perhaps by providing them with more general information, instead of just excuses.

  2. Anonymous said...
    Wow...sorry to hear this. I would have been pretty bummed also. I was at the early show and sat about 3/4 of the way back. View, sound, everything spectacular. You should send a message to McCabe's. While they may be unable to change things for future shows due to the tiny dimensions of they stage and room, at least they may be able to consider the issue.

  3. Yes, I agree. I would have thought the seating arrangements were more McCabe's responsibility than the bands ....though I would have also thought the band might have seen that the people in the front row had a poor view ....usually the venues/theatres themselves warn the audience of any problems restricting viewing especially if the seats might be a higher price than further back ....

  4. From the reaction I experienced at both shows, you may be the only one dissapointed one with the show and are, unfortunately, the only one with an outet to praise it or bitch about it.

    What we heard and saw makes me wonder if you were in the same room on the same night.

    Your views on this show do nothing more than reflect the stereotypical self appointed expert and critic with a frustrated, empty-glass attitude. Your limited view just wanted to see endless guitar playing and not the full artistry of this musical master.

    To me, and the rest of the audience at both shows, Albert showed his versality and passion for the music he loves. We loved it.

    If you didn't know the band members then you didn't do your homework. Try to use a search engine such as Google.

    Staging? Albert did not have control over the stage. The stage is 16 feet wide and 7 feet deep. Take it up with McCabe's.

    Sincerley and not fuming,
    Jim Cowan

    -----Original Message-----

  5. This is in response primarily to Jim's comments.

    Two days after the show, I re-read my own words and found them to be a bit too vitriolic. So I re-wrote the whole thing. I took out many inflammatory words, I cut down on the negatives and accentuated the positives. The end result shows quite well how I now feel about the concert. What I could not change, though, was the fact that I had to watch the whole show with a totally obstructed view.

    I have attended over 280 shows at McCabe's and I typically sit in the first four rows. So I'm accustomed to not always seeing everyone on the stage, but that's to be expected when you have a full band on that tiny stage. But not to be able to see the main protagonist from your front row center seat??? That was definitely a first.

    Anyway, this whole episode is not a big deal, it doesn't matter to me who's to blame and I'm at peace with whatever happened. As the frequent concert goer that I am, I know very well that some concerts turn out better than others and that's just the way it is.

    I love McCabe's from the bottom of my being, there's no better venue on the face of the Earth. And I love Albert Lee with a passion, he is great and I'll see him again one day, preferably at McCabe's. This episode has not changed my feelings toward McCabe's, nor Albert Lee.

  6. I once went to a theatre to see Georgie Fame and we were sitting in the front then and we couldn't see Georgie Fame - I can understand how Gabe felt at the time but as I said, and so does Gabe, I think this has to do more with McCabe than anything else. Anyway, everyone has a right to express how they feel in their own blog, without having to be accused of 'bitching'. Glad you enjoyed it Jim from wherever you were sitting. I am sure everyone would have done so too. But everyone has a right and the freedom to make free comment. It wasn't even a personal criticism it was a criticism of the set up,not the music Jim. It would be terrible if we all had to say the same thing to each other all the time and act as zombie fans or clones, don't you think?

  7. I understand how Gabe must have felt though Jim and everyone has the right to express themselves in their own blog. I think freedom of speech stops us all having to think and say exactly the same thing to each other all the time. It was a fair comment which someone needs to take account of for the sake of anyone else sitting in the front row. Just good business sense. I am glad both you and Gabe are such fans of Albert as I am and I am sure he is generous enough in spirit not be offended at such comments, which were so complimentary to his music and singing, but only glad this was mentioned as he is a profeesional with high standards about everything to do with his shows.

  8. Actually I thought that after reading Jim's comment that it was a pity that he hadn't been sitting in the front row instead if he wouldn't have minded not seeing Albert's guitar (especially when as a loyal fan, he has seen it many times before)! Then there would have been two overwhelmingly satisfied and happy fans with absolutely everything to do with the show! I note that Albert mentioned the 'band' were late - and so I expect the 'roadies' didn't have much time to get organised - that is if the band have roadies, of course, like Hogan's Heroes and so on.

  9. Jim Cown's comments above are surprising...especially since Albert Lee's manager is Jim Cowan.