When the weather is sunny with a hint of breeze in the air, Artpark, with the beautiful Niagara Gorge as a backdrop, is a great place to see a concert.
Tuesday evening's performance of John Kay and Steppenwolf certainly had plenty of opportunities to be a memorable event, given its setting and the band's back catalog of music.
It isn't necessarily that Steppenwolf has had a lot of hits over the years -- other than "Born To Be Wild," "Magic Carpet Ride" and "Hey Lawdy Mama" and calling that last tune a hit is probably stretching things a bit -- but the group has definitely cultivated a loyal cadre of followers willing to attend concerts and buy recordings.
At one point during the concert, John Kay, the leader and sole original member of Steppenwolf still with the band -- in addition to possessing one of rock music's great voices -- announced to the Artpark audience that this was the group's 40th anniversary and he dropped a hint that this was his "last tour."
If that is truly the case and his fans will be deprived of seeing Kay in his guise as Steppenwolf's reason for being, then that isn't necessarily a bad thing because he pretty much dialed in his performance on Tuesday night. It was, in a word, boring.
With the exception of the three aforementioned tunes, a pair of rhythm and blues cover versions ("Sookie Sookie" and "Hoochie Coochie Man") and a credible take on the Hank Snow country music classic "I'm Movin' On" (which Kay originally did better on his first solo album), the concert was filled with the leader's stiff-necked, between-song patter and an assortment of lackluster material from the past 40 years.
You could sense the audience almost chomping at the bit, waiting for the knockout punch in Steppenwolf's arsenal as the band played tight, well-crafted versions from its mediocre repertoire. When Kay and his musicians finally launched into "Magic Carpet Ride" and then segued into "Born To Be Wild," portions of the crowd surged toward the stage while others danced and twirled in little pocket-sized maelstroms.
It was obviously cathartic for many of the folks in attendance, serving as the crowning moment of the day and well worth the wait. Hey, those two songs are definitely great tunes, but I can't help but wonder if they were really worth the wait.
On the other hand, Maria Aurigema's blues band, the opener for the concert, was more consistently interesting and far more communicative about the passion of the music it played. Aurigema is a splendid guitarist, a very good singer and her stage presence makes her a joy to watch. Most of the band's set revolved around songs from "Take Me," its 2006 CD release, a solid effort definitely worth a listen.
John Kay and Steppenwolf
Tuesday night as part of Tuesday in the Park series at Artpark.
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