2 February 2002
The Orleans, Las Vegas, NV
To this day, I still don't think the singer/songwriter/guitarist era has been matched, in terms of talent, intellect, and sincere honesty. Modulated into this era was the perhaps somewhat erroneous "soft rock" label. One could argue that, with the E Major 7th guitar chord opening to Bread's #1 1970 hit "Make It With You", soft rock had merged over into the carpool lane of American culture.
We had the option of seeing David Gates during any one of the four nights that he was booked for this casino about a mile West of the "Strip". Dubbed the Orleans, this venue has perhaps only a slight French Quarter feel, but has the standard 300-400 seat theatre ideal for intimate performances. Besides being 02-02-02, which happens to also be Graham Nash's 60th birthday, my very good friend and I thought the last show of Gates' four night stay, on a Saturday night, would work best.
We had also considered seeing "Bruce Willis and the Accelerators" at Studio 54. Yes, we can say that we considered it.
As with the soft rock era, David Gates began his 14-song set with the above-mentioned #1 Bread hit he proudly composed, but immediately followed it with a new song "Hold It In The Light". David's appearance tonight, as it has almost invariably been in recent years, included a cowboy hat, vest, bowtie, and black Wrangler jeans. For almost the entire night, he picked and strummed on the same Taylor six-string acoustic.
Until you see him on stage, you may not realize how much effort was and is involved in laying out the complex fretboard work for the many tunes David Gates has composed. He's one of the few guitarists who, some 25 years after writing many of his songs, still intently peers at his instrument for precise execution. David's backing band included session guitarist and bass players, and a ten-string orchestra section from California.
Examples of his hand-to-eye coordination included "Diary", a "Mexico"-sounding tribute to "Sweet Baby James [Taylor]", and "17" (not to be confused with the smash Janis Ian tune of the same name). For a handful of tunes this evening, the other musicians would simply take a seat back in the darkness and let the main performer sing and pick by himself.
In that light, "Guitar Man" has and always will generate an eerie feeling when his backing musicians pause and he sings, "And the light begins to flicker and the sound is getting dim, the voice begins to falter and the crowds are getting thin. But he doesn't seem to notice, he's just got to find another place to play.....fade away.....got to play....."
After another new song, "Find Me", came "Baby I'm A Want You", after which David commented, "If I had known I would be performing these songs 25 years after I'd written them, I would have composed them in a lower key." In this instance, Gates, probably for the sake of on-stage tuning simplicity, performed the latter song in A instead of Ab, perhaps slightly contributing to the vocal strain he described. "Sweet Surrender" required similar effort on his part, but the 61-year old artist from Tulsa, OK held his own quite well.
The pleasant surprise, to me, for the evening, was when he took to the stage's grand piano and played remakably eloquent accompanyment to three of his greatest songs: The title track to the "Goodbye Girl" soundtrack, an extended version of "Clouds", and Bread's last major hit, "Lost Without Your Love". Exceptional.
David strapped on a Takamine acoustic, with capo, for "Everything I Own", two semitones lower than the original studio version. After politely walking offstage and returning for the obligatory encore of "If", lights filled the theatre and it was time to go.
The real key to appreciating a singer/songwriter is understanding the person behind the music. David told several jokes in between songs, talked very reverently about his past, including why he doesn't plan to tour with Bread again in the future, and why he sold his large ranch in California a couple years ago.
In this regard, I think his fans enjoy his songs because they are, above all, meaningful.
[****] - Steven T.
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