There is a remarkable event planned for Sept. 11 at the Lockn’ Festival in Arrington, Va.: A tribute to the late Joe Cocker, featuring the Tedeschi Trucks Band and 11 contributors to Joe Cocker’s great live double album Mad Dogs and Englishmen, plus guests such as Dave Mason and Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes.
And, with any luck, it will be half as spirited as the Mad Dogs and Englishmen that Remember Jones presented at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal on Thursday.
Okay, that’s probably overstating it a bit. The Lockn’ show will be great, I’m sure. But there was something about Thursday’s show that inspires this kind of enthusiasm. It wasn’t just a tribute to a famous album. It was a joyful celebration of it. As Mad Dogs and Englishmen requires, Jones went over the top early in the evening, and stayed there for most of it.
Remember Jones (real name, Anthony D’Amato) was not alive when the Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour took place, in 1970. The same goes, I suspect, for most if not all of the musicians in his 20-piece backing band for this show. Yet they somehow managed to re-create the feel of the original tour: a shaggy rock/soul/gospel revival, with steamroller rhythms and soaring group vocals and show-stopping instrumental solos.
Jones didn’t just draw from the famous double album, but also included other songs from the tour that showed up on a deluxe CD reissue, a decade ago. So you got not just “The Letter,” “Feelin’ Alright,” “Superstar” and “Delta Lady,” but also “Let It Be,” “The Weight,” “Something” and “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
It was a nice move putting the eight backing vocalists at center stage, right behind Jones, since their singing was so integral to the arrangements; on songs such as “Give Peace a Chance,” “Let’s Go Get Stoned” and a soul medley composed of “I’ll Drown in My Own Tears,” “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” they sounded like a much bigger group.
An interlude during “Feelin’ Alright,” featuring the band’s two drummers and two percussionists, was riveting, with all four trying to top each other with brief solos, and then going wild together.
As a nice bonus, a psychedelic, ’70s-style light show was projected on a screen behind the stage, and about 18 friends and relatives of the band members sat onstage, adding to the show’s warm, communal feeling.
Constantine Maroulis and Bobby Bandiera were guest stars, fronting the band on “Darling, Be Home Soon” and “Further on up the Road,” respectively. Backing vocalist Brielle Von Hugel sang lead on “Superstar”; JaQuita May did the same for “Let It Be.” Pianist Tom Brislin, who expertly anchored the band throughout the evening with Leon Russell’s swampy keyboard parts, also sang Russell’s vocals on “Humingbird,” “Dixie Lullaby” and “Girl From the North Country.”
But the main star, of course, was Jones, who managed to evoke Cocker’s soulful spirit without stooping to caricature (the way John Belushi, for instance, did) and, in general, seemed to be having the time of his life, bouncing around the stage as he reproduced a cherished collection of music that it didn’t seem possible — before this evening — to reproduce.