Unity was the perfect name for this astounding night which brought together a richly diverse assemblage of musical luminaries crossing over all genres and generations, all unified by a vision of peace and justice, exceptional music, and reverential love for Desmond Tutu.
At the beautiful Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, we took a musical journey with Fishbone and the Mighty Mighty Bosstowns together (!) through Donovan with Lili Haydn, Incubus, Steve Vai, the great poet Stephen Kalinich, Patu Banton, Kemo the Blaxican, and Spencer Davis. Not to mention the legendary Q himself – Quincy Jones – who spoke of his friend Desmond Tutu, and his work on behalf of unity.
Kemo kicked off the proceeding with greatly spirited and multi-lingual hip-hop accompanied by a wonderfully hip and spirited chromatic harpist.
Then we got the great New Orleans processional of Fishbone and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones combined, playing their horns as they came marching down the aisle, lighting the place on fire. Fishbone lead-singer Angelo Moore simply took over, and showed what being a showman means in great plaid suit, singing, dancing, leaping into the audience, and singing with pure soul. Think some fusion of Cab Calloway, James Brown, David Bowie and Al Jolson, and you almost get the idea. But not quite.
At one point he motioned to the audience and said, “Someone – quick – give me some glasses – quick!” Reading glasses were fleetly tossed in his direction, and he donned them as he sang and danced his way through the sly and funky “Hide Behind My Glasses.”
Dicky Barrett, lead-singer of the Bosstones (who also has a good day job as Jimmy Kimmel’s announcer) joined them for an exultant “Enjoy Yourself,” an upbeat anthem to being upbeat.
Next on was British reggae star Pato Banton, who spoke of the greatness of both Tutu and Mandela, and performed with the Bosstones first “Celebrate Mandela’s Freedom,” followed by his beautiful love anthem, “Love Is The Greatest.”
Joely Fisher escorted the legendary Quincy Jones to the podium, to a great ovation. He spoke of his love of Desmond Tutu, and the timeless connection between peace activism and the spirit of music.
There was only one poet present, and that was all that was needed, as they got a true one:
legendary rock and roll wordsmith Stephen Kalinich, who has worked with the P.F. Sloan, the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney and others, and opened shows for a rainbow of rock royalty. He came out shining in bright orange dashiki and orange shoes and reverently recited – more like preaching really – his beautiful poem of transcendence, “The Magic Hand.” Enormous ovation afterwards. For a poet at a rock show. A reason to rejoice.
Brook Breyer, MI student and seriously soulful vocalist, came out in the midst of all this star power and delivered a wonderfully spirited rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need Of Love Today.”
Next came Incubus, who stood to one side and performed a passionate set without drums, just guitar and bass and the powerful voice of Brandon Boyd.
After the intermission there was a lengthy set-up during many Incubus fans departed, but Vai lovers remained, including one loud man who kept yelling, “Those drums better be for Steve Vai! We better be seeing STEVE VAI next!“
He got his wish. Steve Vai took over. Before even stepping onto stage, his guitar began to roar from off-stage, and that distinctive Vai tone filled the old theater. Then came the man, an absolute virtuoso of the electric guitar, who has been astounding people with his incendiary electric flights since he was 14, and impressed a guitar god, Frank Zappa, who put him in his band. (Vai first got the maestro’s attention by not only playing, but transcribing, many of Zappa’s extended guitar solos).
Vai skated around the stage and filled the house with a fluid ferocity that brought to mind the spirit of Jaco Pastorius more than anyone in the high fusion of pure energy and unchained, passionate musicality.
Next up was yet another legend, the great Donovan. With the glorious Lili Haydn on violin, he sang with the same beautiful voice that has been entrancing us for decades. (Before he went on he played backstage many old folks songs as friends joined in, including Stevie Kalinich. People were so loving it, Donovan said, “I could make a career out of this!”)
Onstage he reminded us why he remains beloved, sharing some, if not all, of the classic songs he wrote, including “Catch The Wind,” which with he opened, “Colours,” “Sunshine Superman” and “Lalena.” He also performed the funny “Cinema.” Lili Haydn wondrously conjured up every style and texture on her single violin, locked soulfully into Donovan’s acoustic guitar grooves. There were only two musicians on that stage. And yet it was perfect. So compelling and generous were both with the fullness of their music, it was stunning. A set of magic and majesty both, with gentle whimsy and soul.
After a giant cake was wheeled out in Tutu’s honor, and a video message of peace and gratitude from his daughter Biso Gxashe-Tutu was played, we got the big encore. It was a long time in coming but well worth the wait- the great Spencer Davis – joined by the excellent Ed Tree on electric guitar and the house band of Fishbone and Bosstowns combined – brought it all home with the timeless spirit of “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Though he’s 77 now, Spencer’s as spry as ever, and rocked the night away.
Rarely does it get this good. A night not to be forgotten.
But rather than end with my words, better to end with those of Stephen Kalinich, from “The Magic Hand.”
The Magic hand
that with fingers
finer than pure bone
fingers not made
of flesh or bone
fingers that are all things
This magic hand
echoes as a symbol
in every land
it is a part of every woman
and every man.
From “This Magic Hand”
By Stephen Kalinich