Richie Havens Concert Worse than Subpar

Who stole this guy and replaced him with an evil twin on July 2?

Richie Havens (with Walter Parks)
July 2, 2010 @ Mass MoCa
North Adams, MA

There are only a few possible explanations for the thoroughly horrible show folk icon Richie Havens delivered at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on July 2. They are: he was stoned, he was drunk, he’s resting on past laurels, he’s losing it, or he was having a really, really bad night. Let’s hope it was the last of these as the first three are inexcusable and the fourth one is sad.

Okay, Havens wouldn’t be the first Woodstock-era musician to give a subpar performance—in fact, his generation of artists is rather infamous for shows that transcend one night and stink up an arena the next (think Dylan or The Grateful Dead). But if there was a discernible rhyme or reason to his July 2 show it eluded us. It began badly with Havens doing an abbreviated and underpowered version of “All Along the Watchtower.” From there he sat on stage beside guitarist Walter Parks and proceeded to tell the first of numerous meandering stories in a whispery voice that was impossible to hear beyond the fourth row. It was just as well as they made little sense anyhow. If the intent of his soft-spoken ways was an attempt to foster intimacy, then shame on him for not grasping the setting. Mass MoCa’s open-air concerts are held in what is rather grandiosely called a “courtyard.” That means it’s the space in which trucks once drove, and across which materials moved in the museum’s previous iteration as a factory. We sit in folding chairs hemmed in on three sides by red brick and on the forth by the concrete ditch through which the Hoosic River was rerouted. It’s about as intimate as the word “No!” This didn’t stop Havens from several more rambling bursts of what we’ll charitably call free-association whispering, including one that began with stickball and segued into Superman and an exhortation to recite the “faster than…” soundbite from the old TV show. He had the audience do this three times for a purpose that seemed to make sense to himself and no one else.

If ever it would have been polite to scream “Shut up and play!” it would have been this show. People began to leave after four numbers—which took over a half hour but involved less than 15 minutes of actual music—and those who didn’t leave were so primed for some action that they wildly applauded a lackluster version of “Here Comes the Sun.” It’s possible that Havens caught a groove and improved, but we too left before an hour was up, in the midst of the eighth song at exactly the same tempo. He and Parks didn’t even bother to mail it in; they were just screwing around.

Havens’ most recent album, Nobody Left to Crown is a masterful work and one of his very best. (We would have given it a Grammy.) This makes his July 2 show all the more puzzling. We do not know why it was such a terrible show, but we can say that it was unprofessional, uninteresting, and a complete waste of time and money. One of the songs covered on Nobody Left to Crown is The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Think we’ll take that advice.


A Poem for July 5

With July 4 over and done with another year, here's a better way to think of what the nation could be. Heard this poem from the wonderful John Gorka, whose concerts you should run to see.

At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border
William Stafford

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.
Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.