Thursday, December 04, 2008


This review originally appeared in the 12/3/08 issue of Metroland.


Mahaiwe Theater

November 28, 2008

Since this was listed as a “Christmas show” I was mighty worried that Aaron would be wearing a red tousled hat and shaking jingle bells while riding a sleigh back and forth with fake snow falling while soulless session musicians and an out-of-tune children’s chorus vamped on “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Not to worry; this was an Aaron-centric Neville Brothers show without Cyril and Art with some Christmas songs thrown in. It was loose, it was funky, and it was a blast. Aaron was wearing his Christmas finest, the tight denim vest over the tight black t-shirt, the tight jeans, the boots; with his cinder-block physique, tats, brim, and laconic demeanor, he is still, at 69, the very embodiment of badass. And then he starts to sing.

This show went right down the middle of the road, starting with a weird thing where the band riffed and Neville sang the first line of various 50’s-60’s songs, not a medley, exactly, but close enough for a little discomfort. The set relied mostly on covers, reliable crowd-pleasing warhourses like “Use Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” “Crazy Love,” “Bird on a Wire,” “Everybody Plays the Fool.” Safe, sure, but oh so tasty. Christmas songs dropped in and out, clearly unrehearsed, as everybody was glued to their sheet music on this first date of the Christmas tour. For some reason, this wasn’t the least bit offensive; it sounded great, Aaron was singing his ass off, Charles Neville, on sax, was laughing his ass off. And besides first, who exactly is going to tell Aaron Neville he needs to rehearse? Me? Look at me, man! Wrong!!! And besides second, his original holiday tune, the child-like “A Christmas Prayer”, was charming, and his soulful “Oh Holy Night” was devastating.

He even played some country tunes, passionately aping George Jones on “The Grand Tour” while his band, all Neville Brothers sidemen, played with that high-elbowed stiffness soul guys sometimes get when they have to dumb down to country music. Aaron was killin’; the band got through it.

Then the hammer came down, with a torrid jamming-down “Yellow Moon”, Aaron’s 1966 #1 hit “Tell It Like It Is,” and a roof-raising “Amazing Grace.” And just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any heavier, the show ended with a song Aaron recorded for “Stay Awake”, the brilliant 1988 collection of Disney movie songs: “The Mickey Mouse Club March.” It was time to say goodbye.


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