Solomon Burke at Birchmere
If a university wanted to offer a first-hand seminar in soul -- and wouldn't that be a fabulous class to take -- Solomon Burke would be a professor without equal. He may not have achieved the fame -- or record sales -- of his early soul contemporaries, such as Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Otis Redding, but he is arguably as influential. And, of course, Burke has the not inconsiderable advantage of still being alive.
The "king of rock and soul," as he was introduced at the Birchmere Thursday night, is not only alive, his singing is as magnificent as it was when he started recording five decades ago. For more than two hours, the 68-year-old Philadelphia native led a crack five-piece band, three-piece horn section and two backup singers on a journey through soul's storied history.
In addition to his own love-sexy songs such as "Beautiful Brown Eyes" and heartbreakers such as "Cry to Me," he paid an extended tribute to the hits of his fellow soulsters. Stirring versions of Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," Ben E. King's "Stand by Me," Charles's "Georgia on My Mind" and Redding's "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" were just a few of the many classics Burke revisited to the delight of the enthusiastic crowd. A beautiful cover of Brian Wilson's "Soul Searchin' " provided the cherry on top.
An enormous man dressed in a glittering three-piece purple suit, Burke didn't rise from his chair -- well, throne to be precise -- for the concert's duration. But even seated he summoned up more energy and electricity than more mobile performers. Surrounded by red roses that he handed out to women who approached the stage, the self-proclaimed father of 21 and grandfather of 72 looked every bit the royal and beloved patriarch.
At one point he called up a grandson to the stage and sang him a sweet "Happy Birthday." How cool is that? He then invited anyone who shared the birthday to join him onstage. About eight or nine people came forward and received not only a birthday song but a crisp hundred dollar bill to go with it. Solomon Burke is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
-- Joe Heim
Kid Rock at Merriweather Post
A Kid Rock show, crude? Of course. Aimed at the least common dirtball denominator? Absotively.
But boring? Yup. For all its programmed outrageousness and the sweat of the genre-bending star, Thursday's gig at Merriweather Post Pavilion never grabbed a school-night crowd that was smaller and older than a Kid Rock crowd would figure to be.
Rock, born Robert Ritchie in Romeo, Mich., in 1971, possesses perhaps the stringiest hair in show business. The coif, which most males find impossible to keep after 10th grade, is a key component of the outcast package he throws at his audience. It's a tough act to keep up.
He opened the set with "Son of Detroit," which had him boasting again and again that he's a "redneck," then stagehands unfurled a massive Confederate flag as Rock railed through "You Never Met a [expletive] Quite Like Me." He cursed "the critics" before bringing out a quartet of lightly clad pole dancers for "American Bad Ass," the recorded version of which has him rapping an announcement that he's "never gay, no way," and threatening to "blow up like Oklahoma." In the midst of the metallic "Jackson, Mississippi," as his backing septet kicked into "The Star-Spangled Banner," the pole dancers kept gyrating but paid their respects by aiming their thrusts toward a huge American flag hung to the rear.
This being an election year, Rock offered up a rambling 12-bar blues he called "If I Were President," which had him promising voters to put "Skynyrd on every radio," but by its bland finish even the singer had lost interest.
At night's end, Rock, an eclectic borrower, filched Wayne Newton's multi-instrumentalist routine during "3 Sheets to the Wind (What's My Name?)," taking turns playing a Hammond B3 organ, electric and acoustic guitars and the drum kit. In his time with a Stratocaster, Rock plucked the riff from "Smoke on the Water." He then reprised James Brown's stage exit, feigning exhaustion while a roadie covered him with a cape. A good portion of the crowd was headed for the parking lot by the time Rock tossed off the cape and sprung back into character.
-- Dave McKenna