Had there been a power failure at the Birchmere on Sunday night, some folks no doubt would have considered it a blessing. Maybe then Leon Russell would have resorted to playing an acoustic piano instead of using a keyboard to tap into all the electronic gear stacked onstage. What promised to be an intimate one-man show turned out to be a series of shrill and sometimes ludicrously plugged-in performances.
A synthesized arrangement of "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms," the very thought of which would send most bluegrassers out the door, was the most conspicuous example of electronic overkill. But except for suitably lush orchestrations on "Back to the Island," "Lady Blue" and a couple of other tunes, the electronics and sampling technology detracted far more than they added to the show. In addition to producing the ear-splitting volume, the gear proved woefully inadequate when Russell tried to demonstrate its capabilities by reproducing the sound of a "Steinway" and "trombones." Truth is, the results didn't come within hailing distance of the real thing.
A pity too, because the show revealed how many fine pop and rock songs Russell has composed through the years, and his distinctly nasal voice was strong enough to put Willie Nelson's to shame.