Jay Nedry, owner of Jaxx, introduced Leon Russell for Friday night's show at the Springfield club with a brief, funny tale about going to see the piano legend at RFK Stadium one dazed and confused afternoon in the spring of 1974. Nedry confessed he remembers nothing about the actual gig, which he takes as proof that Russell put on a great show. Most of the forty-somethings in the raucously pro-Russell crowd laughed and nodded knowingly.
For much of this night, however, Russell didn't seem eager to jog anybody's memory of his heyday, when he was among the most sought-after session men and concert attractions in pop music and could count Eric Clapton and at least three ex-Beatles as his playing partners. Nowadays, he uses a laptop computer to remind himself of lyrics and to occasionally program his electric piano in ways that only obscure his awesome talents.
On sentimental classics such as "A Song for You" and "Masquerade," Russell's keyboard emitted synthesized orchestra sounds more appropriate for John Tesh or Yanni. And he blitzed through the blues standard "Kansas City" and Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" so quickly that he needn't have bothered playing either.
At least Russell allowed his piano to sound like a piano on the country songs he's recorded under the pseudonym Hank Wilson. And his vocals on the George Jones archetype "He Stopped Loving Her Today" showed he's still got his pipes. He needed them at the end of the 90-minute set, when he launched a version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" that was as boisterous as the one that made him the star of George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh.
By that point in the evening, however, more than a few had gone home with their memories of the Russell of old, even if they couldn't remember them.