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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Radio City Music Hall, New York, April 21st 2007
Move over King Kong – stand aside Empire State Building, for I have seen the eighth wonder of the world and it’s a few blocks away on Sixth, the Radio City Music Hall. And for all the times I’ve walked past its neon-drenched exterior I’ve never been in, and never anticipated just what a breathtakingly glorious monument to modern music it is.
This art deco masterpiece was opened in 1932, part of the Rockefeller Centre development, which I read (in a book!) “in its architecture stands as distinctly for New York as the Louvre stands for Paris”. But it’s the striking deco interior that would really blow you away. Designed by Donald Deskey (who was also responsible for, among other things, the Tide detergent logo and the original Crest toothpaste tube) it features a cavernous atrium and an auditorium that’s dominated by a spectacular proscenium arch. Oh yes – it’s also full of security guards and ‘no photography’ signs, so no pictures from us I’m afraid. But the best part is what we refer to back in London as ‘the bogs’. With very few exceptions London’s live music experience is accompanied by malodorous urinals with piss and beer-swimming floors. Not here – as Harry Connick Jr. rightly said, “This is New York. This is the Radio City Music Hall. This is high class”. We’ve got a Gentleman’s Lounge – a spotless period decorated 48 stall (plus cubicles – I didn’t get time to count) temple to the lost male art of passing water. The eighth wonder of the world indeed!
Young Harry Connick Jr. is on the road with his band promoting two new albums, Chanson du Vieux Carre, and Oh, My Nola, “an unprecedented musical cornucopia of songs inspired by and associated with the Crescent City” says Harry’s website. Harry is a native of New Orleans and has been in the fore of those musicians supporting efforts to rebuild the city and its musical heritage post Hurricane Katrina, so ‘proceeds’ from the CD sales will go to the New Orleans Habitat Musicians' Village with which Connick is heavily involved, along with his label-owner Branford Marsalis, brother of Wynton (who Harry tells us, is teaching his eleven year old daughter how to play the trumpet), and son of pianist Ellis, who along with pianist James Booker mentored the young Connick in music. Hary Connick
It’s all bit New Orleans incestuous. In case you didn’t know Connick is, not to understate matters, a hugely talented polymath of performing arts – he composes, he plays, he sings and he also acts. With such a sickening array of accomplishments it’s nice to note that he also exudes an easy and open personality, befitting of his birthplace.
He’s on stage with his big band – Connick on piano, with drummer, string-bass, three trumpets, three saxophones and three trombones – playing tunes mainly from the Nola album. It’s mostly a collection of standards like ‘Working in a coalmine’, ‘Bill Bailey’ Jambalaya’, ‘Hello Dolly’. ‘It had to be you’, ‘Down on Bourbon Street’, ‘If you go the New Orleans’, ‘Basin Street Blues’ along with songs such as Allen Toussaint’s ‘We can make it’. Many are set in artful but over-complex arrangements that frankly mystify many of the audience around us who seem to have a relatively short attention span – but they allow Connick to showcase his keyboard skills. Connick moves from his Steinway to an old upright (for a Mrs Mills style “Sunnyside of the Street’) and also a Hammond B3 – his singing is good, but it’s when he leaves the keyboards that he really turns on the vocal style.
The whole evening is a bit like a TV special (maybe to accommodate the short attention span folks) - there’s a great backdrop of New Orleans style cast-iron balconies and a couple of lit old-style lampposts. Two star guests – trumpeter Leroy Jones and trombonist Lucien Barbarin, with whom Harry fools around and also performs what I have subsequently learnt is called a “three fanny booty shake”. Drummer Arthur Latin performs a tour-de force solo with the sticks on the Steinway lid (ouch), lampposts and almost anything else he can hit. What else – oh yeah – Harry’s third trombonist proposes to his intended on stage, Harry introduces us to his wife and kids (whom he loves very dearly, I’m glad to say), and the little girls appear to dance on stage at the end of the show. Very TV special indeed.       Harry
But for all the schmaltz Harry Connick Jr. is simply charming. He adopts the persona of the naive southern boy in the dizzy-dazzling Big Apple (a bit odd as he’s just been on Broadway for several months in the Pyjama Game) and uses that as a platform to mercilessly rib metropolitan mores. This includes a very funny story about trying to buy a ‘beat-up piano’ from the City’s Steinway dealers. He is suitably self-depreciating (particularly about his shiny black shoes, which must be the shiniest I have ever seen) and also clearly having fun, as are the audience who lap it up.
Burger For his encore he tap dances on the Steinway (sans shoes) and shouts to his daughters “don’t do this at home girls, this is a rental piano, the one at home I paid for”. He leaves the stage to a standing ovation, and we leave for a burger (me via yet another pilgrimage to the Gentleman’s Lounge for a quick pass). A very satisfactory Saturday night show in the Big A – and even if you never go and see Mr Connick Jr. you should certainly buy his Nola album, as it’s supporting a very good cause. - Nick Morgan

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