Examiner.com: T Bone Burnett brings 'The Speaking Clock Revue' to the Beacon
10.21.2010 - Examiner.com By Jim Bessman
The pairing of Elton John and Leon Russell was the marquee attraction, what
with their new album The Union garnering much notice. And sure enough, the
piano-playing pair's six-song closing set at last night's The Speaking Clock
Revue show at the Beacon Theater was grand.
But the high point really came halfway through the first set, when emcee Elvis
Costello outlined event producer T Bone Burnett's 30-year background in films,
then brought out Jeff Bridges, whom he worked with on the music side on the
unforgettable films The Big Lebowski and last year's Crazy Heart. Bridges' Kris
Kristofferson-like performance of the latter's key song "Fallin' & Flyin'" was
right out of the movie; when Costello and Burnett traipsed out together playing
guitars after the first verse the moment was magical and consecrated by Bridges'
recognition of the duo as the Coward Brothers--the name they've used for their
many music collaborations.
Burnett, of course, had a hand in producing nearly every artist on the bill
starting with Costello, who opened the evening with "Brilliant Mistake," from
his Burnett-produced 1986 album King Of America. Indeed, Brooklyn's progressive
acoustic group the Punch Brothers, who followed, and English singer-songwriter
Karen Elson were about the only artists on the bill who haven't worked with
him--at least for now.
For the most part, every artist did two songs, mostly backed by "The Speaking
Clock Revue Ensemble" led by guitarist Marc Ribot and featuring guitars, pedal
steel, mandolin, upright bass, keyboards, banjo and two drummers (including the
great Jim Keltner). Not everything worked: Roots-pop duo the Secret Sisters'
version of Johnny Cash's "Big River" was drowned out by a big wall-of-sound
arrangement additionally buttressed by the Punch Brothers.
The ensemble wisely let well enough alone during My Morning Jacket's Jim James'
solo acoustic songs. John Mellencamp, however, ably played it both ways.
Accompanied by his splendid guitarist Andy York, he rocked solid with the
ensemble on "Troubled Land" (Elson adding backup vocal support) and then did a
beautiful solo acoustic turn on "Save Some Time To Dream," which he prefaced
with a pointed dedication to America's children "and the education they're not
Education was Burnett's motivation for staging The Speaking Clock Revue, which
also played Boston on Oct. 16. Presented with Participant Media in conjunction
with the release of the Davis Guggenheim-directed documentary film Waiting For
"Superman"--which explores innovative approaches by education reformers--the
concerts are raising money for The Participant Foundation to support music and
arts education programming in public schools.
Burnett outlined the cause while the set was changed for the John/Russell
finale. The two then strode to their opposing pianos and commenced their
spectacular The Union mini-set, the ensemble broadened by a four-piece horn
section and four female backup singers. The standout was "Gone To Shiloh," a
Civil War-themed song that featured Beacon Theater favorite Gregg Allman, who
closed the first set, on guest vocals.
Extra credit should go to ringmaster Costello, who's practically made a side
career out of hosting such events, not to mention his Spectacle: Elvis Costello
With…. TV series. Besides his own stellar performances (some from his
forthcoming Burnett-produced album National Ransom), he kept the proceedings
wittily rolling along, then turned serious in introducing 83 year-old Ralph
Calling himself "a visitor in your country" who frequently courts criticism for
speaking his mind on American issues, Englishman Costello proudly made note of
his two New York City-born sons and guaranteed that they would be "raised right"
by learning to always love and respect bluegrass legend Stanley.
Accompanied by his longtime guitarist James Shelton, Stanley sang some of his
classics, capped by "Man Of Constant Sorrow," the key song from O Brother, Where
Art Thou?, in which he starred. And who produced that movie's celebrated
soundtrack? T Bone Burnett, of course.