Russell Concert Mesmerizing
By Staff Reports
May 22, 1976
1/16/13 at 2:25 AM
Tulsa’s own Leon Russell, backed strongly by his wife, Mary, returned to his hometown in concert Friday night with the style, power and mesmerizing effect of a rocking revival show.
Over 7,660 persons greeted Leon and Mary at the Civic Center with a standing ovation, and many remained on their feet for most of the show.
The Russells earned and deserved the thundering ovations. For the next two hours they performed an overpowering, almost non-stop musical program.
The Tulsa stop was about the half-way mark in a 21-city national tour for the Russessl. They’ve gained favorable reviews elsewhere, and based on the Tulsa show it’s easy to see why.
Of course, being in front of the hometown crowd must have helped the cause.
Leon, dressed in a full white suit, frequently pointed and waved to persons in the crowd while hollering, preaching and shouting into the microphone.
NONE OF THESE MOVEMENTS – spontaneous or otherwise – could detract from the overall power generated by Leon, Mary, their three female backup vocalists or six backing musicians.
Mary, formerly Mary McCreary, alre33ady had a fine reputation as a backing vocalist, but this was reportedly the first time she and Leon performed together during a scheduled concert.
In fact, as the show progressed, she almost singlehandedly took over as the driving force on stage. Leon supplied the magic, but Mary became the leading person.
She is a superb vocalist with an extraordinary range that fits perfectly into Leon’s gospel-like arrangements. Again and again she sang piercing, soaring solos as the band steadily built in the background.
Actually, she sounds much like a young Aretha Franklin, able to be both subtle and warm on a ballad and fiery and overpowering on rock and gospel music.
LEON FRIDAY WAS AS GOOD AS his reputation has ever been. Everything he did brought renewed applause from the crowd.
He told the crowd “This is a song I wrote about the ol’ lady,” when introducing “Lady Blue.” Twice he stepped away from his piano and “danced” across the stage. During “Jumping Jack Flash” he danced on the piano.
The Russells alternated evenly by singing first and duet, then a solo for Leon, then a solo for Mary, then a duet, etc.
The music selection was also evenly divided between material from the new “Wedding Album” and older material by both.
R.E.O. Speedwagon provided an appropriately loud, rocking opening set for the show.
R.E.O’s strong point is to play driving rock rifts on guitars and synthesizers, and they did a good job of that throughout their 50-minute set.
-- Vern Stefanic