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POP MUSIC REVIEW : A Triumph for Carlton in Crime-Victims Benefit

Larry Carlton had the look of a happy man Friday night--and why not? Less than a year after he was struck down by a still-unknown assailant’s bullet, and months before even his doctors thought it was possible, he was back on stage, playing guitar with no visible difficulties.

Carlton’s triumphant return was the highlight of a concert at the Universal Amphitheater for the benefit of Helping Innocent People, an organization created by the guitarist and his manager to provide funding and counseling for the victims of violent crimes. As one of the best-liked, most-active performers in the recording studios for the last two decades, Carlton had few difficulties in drawing a sterling collection of artists.

The nearly three-hour program, which included brief sets by 10 singer-musicians and two comedians, moved at a brisk pace, with none of the production snags and equipment-changing delays that so often plague multiperformer concerts.

Although many of the acts chose to limit their appearances to a run through one or two of their prominent pieces, others moved into more intriguing territory.

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Joni Mitchell (working with only the accompaniment of husband Larry Klein on bass) provided highlights in a three-song set. The rich, somber tones she now sings in exclusively aptly emphasized the darkening power of her present music vision.

Other high points included guitarist Stanley Jordan, struggling a bit with his articulation but playing “Over the Rainbow” with vigor and intensity; Juice Newton’s energetic revitalization of such familiar items as “Queen of Hearts”; Michael McDonald, playing keyboards and singing back-up throughout the evening and finally whipping through a rousing version of his own “Taking It to the Streets”; and Lyle Lovett’s complete blurring of the lines between country and almost everything else.

Other performers included singers Michael Franks, Christopher Cross, David Pack, inspirational singer Michelle Pillar (Carlton’s wife) and comedians David Coulier and Byron Allen.

But the real star of the evening was Carlton. Always one of the finest technical guitarists on the scene, he was--on this program--a passionate one as well. Accompanying one act after another, spinning in and out of several blues pieces, he seemed creatively liberated--as though the terrible violence committed upon his body had somehow freed his creative spirit.

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