Reviews

Rahsaan Patterson - 12 February 2011, New York

Photos: Craig Bailey / Perspective Photo.

Rahsaan Patterson tells the truth.

Rahsaan Patterson

Rahsaan Patterson

City: New York
Venue: B.B. King's
Date: 2011-02-12

"He's the truth." That's what the woman sitting next to me said. She's an aspiring singer who works as an administrator in a hospital. Her three-word statement encapsulated why a standing room-only crowd braved congested 42nd Street sidewalks to witness the return of Manhattan's own son of soul, Rahsaan Patterson. Now based in Los Angeles, the singer-songwriter/soul stylist serenaded his home town with a pre-Valentine's Day concert at B.B. King's.

No matter the holiday pretext, love is fundamental to a Rahsaan Patterson performance. There are love songs, of course, but there is also an amorous reciprocity between him and his audience. From the moment he walked onstage, singing rather than speaking his salutation ("good evening"), Patterson received the first of many adoring ovations throughout his 12-song set. The applause wasn't simply a gesture to honor the homecoming of a New York native nor was it the proximity to Valentine's Day that heightened the ardor in the room. Rahsaan Patterson's audience simply wanted to hear the truth. Launching into his new single, "Easier Said Than Done", Patterson deployed that truth. "Truth be told, I should be gone 'cause you're fucking with my mental state," he sang during one memorable couplet. Indeed, sometimes the truth hurts.

However, like Patterson demonstrated so vividly on Wines and Spirits (2007), truth also yields healing. "It's Alright Now", one of the key tracks off Love in Stereo (1999), reflects emancipation from romantic manipulation. Effortlessly jumping octaves and singing in falsetto, Patterson's voice traveled a gamut of emotions. "Gonna make it without you," he sang, stroking his chin while the music stirred inside him.

In fact, the most moving display of love during the evening was the relationship Patterson has with music. Whenever his voice reverberated throughout the walls of the sold-out venue, his onstage body language connoted a sense of rapture. His head tilted back on "Burnin'", his hands moving across his chest and over his heart. As his voiced scaled the stratosphere, he bent sideways with his palm open, as if holding the invisible hand of a love that will never be untrue -- music.

"Thank you for being here," Patterson said between numbers. "We appreciate y'all. Truly, we do." In return, the audience appreciated "Spend the Night", a cut from Patterson's 1997 eponymous debut that generated one of the most vociferous reactions that evening. "I love this song to death," the woman beside me exclaimed to her friends. Patterson took his time with the song, expanding the more familiar studio version to give fans a multi-dimensional listening experience, beyond the conventional 4:50 mark. "Thank you for clapping," Patterson said upon the song's conclusion. "You know it means everything. There's nothing worse than performing in a small town where no one knows who you are."

Responding to requests for songs like "So Hot" and "Oh Lord", Patterson quipped, "What we are going to do is the set list we chose for the evening... and this one's on it. It goes like this." Indeed, there are many different kinds of Rahsaan Patterson fans, all with varying preferences, but most would concur about the greatness of "Can't We Wait a Minute", which continued the set. "I've seen him on YouTube just murdering this song," my newly befriended companion said, breathlessly.

For the evening's duration, Rahsaan Patterson gave generous solo spots to individual band members and exhibited great care for his background singers, making sure their monitors functioned correctly. From the Wines and Spirits singles "Stop Breaking My Heart" and "Feels Good" to "The One For Me" and "The Best" off After Hours (2004), Patterson drew heavily from the latter part of his catalog. Both albums were issued on Patterson's independent Artistry Music label, which will also release his forthcoming Bleuphoria album in April 2011 via Mack Avenue Records.

In advance of the album's arrival, Patterson left the audience with a parting gift: his rendition of Sade's "Love Is Stronger Than Pride". Over the years, Patterson's faithful yet inimitable interpretation has become among the most anticipated moments of his concerts. He personalized every note of the Sade classic, isolating moments between words to underscore the profundity of the lyrics.

It wasn't because of Valentine's Day. It wasn't because of Cupid. With his resounding voice and commanding presence, Rahsaan Patterson gave back as much love as he received. And that's the truth.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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