The add notes an August 19 show at the Santa Barbara Bowl featuring both Joe Cocker and Huey Lewis and the News. I’m not really sure who is considered the opener — it might even be considered a 2-headliner show — but my first thought was, “That’s a pretty great show.”
Because, unless you’re going to a festival, it’s pretty rare to get two acts you really like on one bill. Normally, opening acts are decent, but often they’re up-and-coming groups getting a break to tour with veterans or they’re washed-up groups that had a hit or two.
Good opening acts are basically a rare bonus.
So then I started thinking about some of the better opening acts I’ve seen through the years. And here are some of my favorites:
* Robert Cray. This goes way back to 1987, when Cray was promoting his Strong Persuader album. While he’d been around for a few years before that, I’d just recently learned of him through the video for “Smoking Gun,” which gave him crossover success. His bluesy, soulful tunes — with the great guitar playing he’s known for — was a nice match for Eric Clapton. And the two later shared the stage — with guest Phil Collins on drums.
* Living Colour. During the 80s, African-American acts had difficulty getting on MTV, unless they were named Michael Jackson. But Living Colour had the good fortune of being on Jackson’s label, which said to MTV: Play Living Colour, or we pull Michael Jackson. Before that, the band had help from Mick Jagger, who helped secure a record deal. Later, Jagger’s group, the Rolling Stones, invited Living Colour to open for them. When I saw them open for the Stones in 1989, their song “Cult of Personality” was still getting lots of MTV play. While they rocked pretty hard, their catelogue of songs obviously paled in comparison to the Stones’.
* Ani DiFranco. The pairing of DiFranco and Dylan in 1997 seemed like a pretty good match — both were lyrical, coffee-house type acts, who could also mix in some electric tunes. But it just seemed kind of . . . incongruous, if I can use a word like incongruous here. A lot of Ani fans were there just for Ani. And I didn’t get a sense that Dylan fans really cared much for DiFranco. Yet, since Dylan mangled his songs, I thought DiFranco’s portion was actually better.
* Lenny Kravitz. Like Living Colour, Kravitz didn’t have a lot of songs at the time — he’d just released his debut album “Let Love Rule,” but you got a sense that he was going to be around for a while. His set before Tom Petty took the stage in 1990 was short but sweet.
* Bryan Adams. Given the number of hits Adams has had — which includes some giant-selling soundtrack tunes — he’s easily a headliner-type of act. But he also hadn’t had a hit in quite some time, which might have factored into the decision to have him open for Rod Stewart, who performed with Adams and Sting on “All For Love,” during the 2008 Stewart tour. At his Mid-State Fair show, though, Adams proved he can still rock — and, in fact, easily outrocked Stewart.
* Kool & The Gang. Both K&G and Rod Stewart were well past their prime when I saw Kool & the Gang open for Stewart in 1999. But they were still quite good. (Stewart’s show wasn’t as soft as his 2008 one in Paso Robles.) Like Adams, Kool & the Gang had plenty of great tunes to play — and they nailed them live.
So those are the shows I can think of. It seems like in recent years, opening acts haven’t been quite as exciting so the ones on here tend to be older.
What are some of your favorite opening acts?
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