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Cocker still a cool character

Joe Cocker
Auditorium Theatre
Chicago, IL
February 25, 2005
Joe Cocker Joe Cocker

Story and Photos By Andy Argyrakis

Above being a singer, entertainer and occasional songwriter, Joe Cocker is best regarded for his abilities as a song interpreter. His burly but unmistakable voice, those spastic mannerisms and charismatic inflection have reached legendary proportions since debuting in the United States at 1969's unforgettable Woodstock extravaganza. And in the thirty-five years that have passed, he's been able to step beyond those psychedelic rock pretenses to become a ballad blaster, soulful pop star and R&B crooner, canonizing many of his rough necked renditions as classics. Despite being around for so long, Cocker's remained relatively prolific in his pace of recording and maintains time on the road more than most half his age. The reason for the most recent visit to town was in support of Heart & Soul, the New Door Records debut and first fresh batch in three years. Though cover songs have always appeared amply on records throughout the years, in this context Cocker exclusively takes many of pop culture's most familiar tracks and spins them with mainly satisfying scruff and gruff.
Joe Cocker Several of those were sprinkled throughout the platter at the Auditorium Theatre, along with smashes from throughout the decades, backed boldly by a five-piece band and two background singers. Amongst the most enduring were the keyboard infused "When the Night Comes," a straightforward look at Robert Palmer's "Every Kinda People" and his immortal treatment of Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful." Though a stab at U2's "One" is earning some airplay, it was one out of the awkward new handful where even Cocker's might didn't add up to the original. Only Bono could really do those melody lines justice, especially with the high pitched orchestrally tinged interpretation. The performer's intentions were noble to revitalize Marvin Gaye's socially conscious "What's Going On," though his overly messy approach seemed foreign when sized up against the original's sweet sentiment.
More appropriate was the deep-bellied ode to the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools" and even the somewhat delicately framed Paul McCartney staple "Maybe I'm Amazed." The romantic mode continued on the love theme from An Officer and a Gentleman ("Up Where We Belong"), which aside from sappy lyrics was accompanied marvelously by one of the supporting divas. Even more on target was The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends," which Cocker arguably made more recognizable than even Ringo Starr as its originator. It was that, along with The Box Tops' "The Letter," which truly kicked the roof off the formal venue vouching for Cocker's overall credence. Aside from playing in the headliner's band, saxophonist Euge Groove opened the show with a short set hinged mostly on his latest Narada Jazz release Livin' Large. Like Cocker, covers are also present on that record including "Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Again" (made famous by Sly and the Family Stone) and "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" (penned by James Taylor). However, in the brief opening slot, he stuck to originals like that disc's finger snapping title track. More than simply elevator music, the other spunky selections appeared complicated in composition and showcased the brisk talents of the contemporary genre's rising bright spot.

Joe Cocker

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