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Baby Sitters Cash In: Three days, three arenas, three AAA (Adult Album Alternative) acts. Make sure to fill up the minivan. Pictured: Sarah Brightman.

The Weak in Rock

This weekend could be the most musically impotent in recent San Jose history

By Jim Harrington

IT SEEMS like I spend half my waking hours justifying why I live in San Jose. The other half of the time is spent driving to San Francisco and, to a lesser degree, Berkeley and Oakland to see concerts. So far, the best argument for my choice of residency that I can muster to my hipper/holier-than-thou friends to the north is that I like to be able to park within walking distance of my own front door.

That usually works, especially on the San Franciscans. If needed, I toss in Lou's Living Donut Museum, which doesn't help to improve my position, but it always seems to change the topic.

But Lou can't help me this time. And neither can talks of a proposed new concert venue or two. In fact, if city and county officials get their wish, that might actually make the situation worse if that's possible. There's simply no rational justification for why--as a new music fan--I am living in San Jose this week.

Take a peek at the big-name shows, and you'll understand. I'm laughing as I write it: Sarah Brightman tonight at the HP Pavilion, Rod Stewart on Friday also at the Shark Tank and Jackson Browne on Saturday at the Center for the Performing Arts. Too bad Mother's Day isn't until May because all three shows would make appropriate gifts--if you don't like your mom much.

Such anti-hipster hotbeds as Branson, Mo., and Reno, Nev., would get a good chuckle out of this weekend's lineup. Indeed, it's funny, in the same way Evil Dead 2 is, that this weekend promptly follows the news that the city and county are brawling over concert venues. The county wants to augment the fairgrounds with a 7,000-seat theater. The city's plan calls for the Sharks parent company, Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment, to run a 5,000-seat facility near the corner of San Pedro and St. James streets.

The boys in teal suits hope that the $80 million complex would host roughly 130 events per year. That's a ridiculously high number of concerts--roughly double what took place at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, HP Pavilion and San Jose Event Center in 2002 combined. But that's not the important issue. The real question is: Who wants to see that many shows? In order to hit that mark, organizers would have to resort to a watered-down schedule at best and, well, a really crappy one at worst. Can you say Huey Lewis, Doobie Brothers and Gipsy Kings? We really don't need the help that this new venue would provide; it can't get much less hip than Brightman, Stewart and Browne.

The first thing to understand is that there is a big difference between being unhip and being crappy. All three performers are good at what they do and will certainly please their respective crowds. It's just what they do is years removed from the rest of us living in 2004.

Out of the great triumvirate of old fogies, Brightman is the one who is trying the hardest to remain relevant and, not surprisingly, she's having the worst luck. The Broadway star who is best known for her role in Phantom of the Opera and for her marriage to--coincidentally--the show's author, Andrew Lloyd Webber, has turned into a diva-esque version of David Bowie.

She does makeovers the way Cher does costume changes, acting the important artiste and exploring new musical thematic ground with each release. Her latest effort, Harem, finds the 43-year-old British vocalist adjusting her profitable brand of lightly operatic pop to accommodate some Middle Eastern sounds--possibly to hop alongside Jay-Z and Timbaland on the bhangra bandwagon. But it's hard to believe that she would have journeyed into this domain if she was still married to the ever-sensible, if not always original, Webber. Trust that fans at HP Pavilion will be eager for the vocalist to replace the veil over these Harem tracks and get right into the regularly scheduled Music of the Night.

To Rod Stewart's credit, he isn't even trying to be new or original. He's trying to be Tony Bennett, and it's working for him commercially, if not necessarily artistically. Leaving the party-boy image behind, the 59-year-old soccer rocker has successfully resuscitated his lengthy career with his two-volume Great American Songbook.

You could probably fill the HP Pavilion to capacity with the number of singers who are better suited for singing such pop standards as "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "I'm in the Mood for Love," "I Only Have Eyes For You" and "Smile," all of which are featured on Stewart's latest collection, As Time Goes By ... The Great American Songbook, Vol. 2.

As far as former rockers go, I'd rather hear Bryan Ferry croon these sentimental tunes than Stewart. But few have sold as many records doing it as Rod. Will the fans really want to hear these oldies in concert? My guess is not. The big applause will come when he struts out his own oldies like "Hot Legs," "Maggie May" and the immortal "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Plus, much of these traditional pop standards will sound redundant coming from Stewart's mouth. I mean, he's Rod Stewart--of course he's in the mood for love.

From operatic Middle Eastern-tinged pop and spandex-covered standards, this soon-to-be-infamous weekend of music softly strums to its conclusion with the always-earnest folk rock of Jackson Browne. Jackson is just days removed from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. His selection solidified his place in the industry among the likes of Bob Seger and ZZ Top--two other 2004 inductees--but it certainly did nothing for his hip quotient. But has Browne ever cared about being hip, even back in the day when he was folk's cool equivalent to David Cassidy?

The tireless troubadour obviously cares about forests and inner-city kids and energy sources that don't go boom in the night and just about every other cause that warrants a benefit concert. But hipness has never seemed to be foremost on his mind, even when he was rumored to be hooking up with all the hot starlets in Hollywood.

His latest record, The Naked Ride Home, couldn't seem more out of place than it does in a pop world dominated by Linkin Park, Kanye West, Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake. Although, admittedly, it doesn't seem that far removed from the chart-topping Coldplay.

What I won't admit to my friends in San Francisco is that I actually like Browne's music. Of course, given my geographic origin, they've probably already figured that out.


Sarah Brightman and Rod Stewart perform at the HP Pavilion on Thursday (March 18) and Friday (March 19), respectively. Jackson Browne plays Saturday (March 21) at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster (408.998.TIXS).


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From the March 17-24, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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