Honoree Walter Hawkins was part of the lineup Wednesday at the Lincoln.
Honoree Walter Hawkins was part of the lineup Wednesday at the Lincoln. (By Haraz N. Ghanbari -- Associated Press)
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Friday, June 20, 2008

Grammy Salute to Gospel Music

Musical tributes can be tricky. Most fans would prefer to hear their favorite songs performed by the artists who made them famous, rather than stand-ins. However, at the 2008 Grammy Salute to Gospel Music, held Wednesday at the Lincoln Theatre, some of the biggest names in the field showed that, in the right hands, covers can be incredible.

The Recording Academy program celebrated the careers of Edwin and Walter Hawkins, Sandi Patty and the Winans brothers by presenting them each with a President's Merit Award and collecting artists, including Richard Smallwood, Rance Allen and Natalie Grant, to perform the honorees' biggest hits.

Patti LaBelle showed up to honor the Winanses, the four brothers responsible for launching an entire musical dynasty. LaBelle donned glasses and read lyrics from a sheet in front of her during her powerhouse performance of the Winanses' "Tomorrow," one of the best-known gospel tracks of the 1980s. "I know this song, but I don't want to make a mistake," she explained.

The quartet Avalon paid tribute to contemporary Christian music star Patty by lending their four-part harmonies to her song "Another Time, Another Place," and in recognizing the accomplishments of Edwin and Walter Hawkins, singer Kim Burrell infused "Be Grateful" with her unique style of gospel-jazz.

Still, despite the caliber of the musical tributes, nothing equaled the performances of the honorees themselves.

Marvin, Carvin and Michael Winans sang "The Question Is," with Marvin standing in for Ronald Winans, who passed away in 2005. Patty belted out "We Shall Behold Him," and Edwin Hawkins sang his standard "Oh Happy Day," one of the best-known gospel songs of all time. Walter Hawkins ended the night, appropriately enough, by filling the stage with the evening's performers for a version of his song "Thank You."

-- Sarah Godfrey

James Taylor

On a list of places you wouldn't expect trouble, the front row of a James Taylor concert in Northern Virginia would probably rank pretty high. So what the heck was going on at Wolf Trap on Wednesday night? First there was the irate patron who angrily confronted Taylor over the stage's edge, claiming that guitarist Michael Landau was playing too loud. Then there was the woman dancing at the foot of the stage who didn't understand why the front-row-center folks objected to the view and was eventually enlightened by way of a security escort elsewhere. "Is there a full moon tonight or something?" Taylor mused at one point.

Well, yes, but maybe there's a slightly less mystical explanation: Perhaps smooth adult-contemporary versions of '50s soul classics unlock the beast hidden deep inside James Taylor fans. Taylor and his Band of Legends (accomplished session musicians like Landau, Steve Gadd and "Blue Lou" Marini) have recently recorded an album of covers, and they interspersed some of Taylor's biggest hits with airy, sprawling and often delightful versions of the Silhouettes' "Get a Job" and George Jones's "Why Baby Why," around which Taylor wrapped his buttery voice like shrink-wrap over sandpaper. He jazzed up his own hit "Mexico" with Latin percussion and sang around the beat, Ella Fitzgerald-style, on "Country Road." An extended version of his blues-rock number "Steamroller," however, showed the perils of hiring such accomplished sidemen: They played excellently, nodding to one another in admiration, even though the song was excruciating.

-- Andrew Beaujon

Iron Maiden

There were a lot of people younger than 40 at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Wednesday night -- women, too! -- indicating that British metalheads Iron Maiden have picked up some converts since their Thatcher-era glory days. Their current "Somewhere Back in Time" tour revisits the veteran headbangers' '80s albums, regarded as their best, and business is booming. Also flaming. And smoking (though that was probably dry ice). Performing atop an elaborate, if chintzy, Egyptian-motif stage bedecked with glowing-eyed mummies and whatnot, Maiden hammered through a thunderous 16-song set like the grizzled old pros they've become, and they didn't skimp on the pyrotechnics.

A clip of Winston Churchill rallying his countrymen to resistance introduced the vertiginous opener, "Aces High," the band's three guitarists grinding away in sonic lockstep. Later, a cover of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 18th-century poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" kicked off an escalating arc of semi-special effects. "The Number of the Beast" featured a visit from what looked like an effigy of a steroid-enhanced goat, his gaze sweeping mechanically over the crowd. By the set-closing "Iron Maiden," a gigantic puppet of Eddie -- the band's sinewy, skinless mascot -- hovered above the drum kit. Eddie returned during the encore, this time in sci-fi battle regalia, to walk his 15-foot frame tentatively across the stage, give a half-hearted wave of his laser pistol, then amble back into the wings.

Moments like these gave the two-hour show a campy charm that kept it aloft after the one-note riffage had grown monotonous. Frontman Bruce Dickinson's agility and stamina were remarkable, but his inimitable caterwaul was less certain. Whether this was a microphone problem or whether his 49-year-old voice simply wasn't up for such a lengthy itinerary of time travel, it was hard to tell. But each time he implored the Columbia crowd to "Scream for me, Baltimore," the faithful deafeningly obliged.

-- Chris Klimek

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