Keith Richards, “Keith Plays The Apollo” (poisonAPPLE)
Jazz Foundation benefit. Tribute to Merry Clayton. Apollo Theatre, New York, NY. 22nd October 2015
Gimme Shelter (Webcast soundboard) / Happy (Webcast Soundboard) / Gimme Shelter (Audience source) / Happy (Audience source) (29:41)
In the words of the Guardian news paper from the UK; “The annual Great Night In Harlem is a fundraising event for the Jazz Foundation of America, dedicated to the support of ageing jazz and blues musicians who are not adequately supported in their retirement, and often not even during their twilight playing years. The JFOA is an outfit much respected during its 26-year history, invariably attracting a large roster of major artists to be involved with the Apollo spectacular, along with a dynamic selection of special guests who always turn up unexpectedly.”
This year, one of the shows special guests was Keith Richards who was there to dedicate his set to Merry Clayton, the backbone of arguably the Rolling Stone’s largest and greatest hit, ‘Gimme Shelter’. The track was recorded between October and November, 1969 during sessions for the ‘Let It Bleed’ album with Merry as guest to give Mick Jagger’s vocals a little more spiritual shove to the apocalyptic message and sound.
Merry was involved in a shattering car accident in 2014 which resulted in a lengthy stay in hospital and due to further complications, later had both legs removed. Despite this turn of circumstances, she continues to work.
Keith’s choice of ‘Gimme Shelter’ was, of course, in tribute to Merry but it wouldn’t be an appearance by the Stone alone without one of his regular touring tracks and so he backs up his show by playing a Keith composition, ‘Happy’.
Abley backed by his band, the X-pensive Winos, a group made up of Ivan Neville, Waddy Wachtel, Willie Weeks (Filling in for Charley Drayton) , Steve Jordan, Sarah Dash, Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler, Keith delivers a storming version of this ‘Gimmie Shelter’, however, it’s not all straight up and down as Lisa’s vocals come straight from the Mariah Carey school of over-egging – even after listening to years of a well studied classic tune, even the slightly looser based live renditions, you become accustomed to what makes a great version, Lisa seems to suffer with a possible case of the nerves and rather reaching the height of Merry’s gorgeous vocals, something seems to spike and Ms. Fischer folds a little. It’s not X Factor terrible, it’s not swooping sublime either, thankfully, it doesn’t distract too long from the track but once the band reach the middle section, something goes drastically wrong and Keith and Waddy seem to miss cues and tunings slip, crashing badly against each other and things un-gel, it’s scattershot through the rest of the track but past these two interventions, the song still delivers and hard – It almost gives the feeling that the band are trying to conjure a little bit of dismay and discord.
The band are a little better attuned to ‘Happy’ and this version is a bit (I must stress, a bit) tighter and a great joyous rendition of this gadabout track. Keith’s enjoying his part so much he misses a cue close to the mike and the musical versatility goes out of the window a little as the Winos go for a teetering kind of vibe – Enough bourbons to make you feel like you’re wearing a warm bath as opposed to partial blindness.
The ’soundboard’ version of these tracks suffers a bit of the compression that webcasts tends to suffer from, if you’re fine with that, it’s a nice listen, if, like me, it affects the ears a bit, you might be better with the audience recording, slightly less produced but – In a fit of bonkersness – I dare say it sounds better than the soundboard. A matrix might have been nice as the 5th and 6th tracks if poisonAPPLE could have pulled it together enough.
This EP is very nicely packaged as poisonAPPLE – An Empress Valley subsidiary – have come to produce. It’s not a repeat play delight but, if you need it, bulks out your Keef collection and is a nice collectors piece from a rare solo appearance.