Al Kooper, one of Rock n Roll’s most historic musicians, performed at The Lewis A. Swyer Theatre inside The Egg in Albany on May 17th in celebration of his 70th birthday. The small theatre held less than 400 people who greeted Kooper with a standing ovation. Al Kooper has quite the resume, recording with such musicians as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, B.B. King, and dozens more. Al Kooper thanked the audience for attending his belated birthday party since he had to reschedule due to his age and New York’s harsh winters. It was just Kooper on stage for the first few songs as he went back and forth between the electronic keyboard atop his vintage Hammond organ. His vocals were tender and worn, but sincere. He was then joined onstage by a bassist and his drummer “The Sheriff” as Kooper himself switched to electric guitar to play a slightly off-key version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”.
Al Kooper has classic “Dad Humor” that anyone can relate to with corny puns and jokes about being clueless as to what all the buttons are for on his electric keyboard. Keeping the atmosphere light and funky with his Funky Faculty band, Kooper led the way into Booker T’s classic “Green Onions”, a laid back summer time groove. One of the highlights of the show was to hear his version of “Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones where you can hear Kooper’s organ playing on their original album. He has a smoother jazz vibe to him but can pack a big punch like The Stones. The Funky Faculty built up repetitive peaks with vintage guitar riffs, funky bass rhythm and blaring horns to make a solid, modern day groove.
For the second portion of the show, Kooper was joined by longtime friend and guitarist Jimmy Vivino, known to today’s youth as a member of the house band for Conan O’Brian. The Sheriff jumped on the cymbals and was joined with a quick bass as Vivino lets out the long echoes of his guitar strings. The whole crowd felt it and began to sway from the pressure of the heavy blues being played out. Vivino sounded like he was revving an engine, a lot of built up energy waiting to zoom by and sent hearts racing to keep up. Given the Upstate NY location, they were eager to pay tribute to both the late Levon Helms, performing The Band’s “The Weight” which sparked an endearing sing-along, and Bob Dylan on their rendition of “Highway 61” which caused the band members to pause and join in on the rhythmic clapping. Al Kooper ended the night by introducing the last song by saying, “This was the word to me” as he went into Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” another album you can hear his gospel organ playing. After all these years, Kooper still performs the classic hits with a youthful kick that is easily recognized and cherished.