Dave Carlock: John Denver LIVE? in concert

Published 7:20 am Friday, March 1, 2013

I went to see John Denver in concert last week at the Star Plaza.
For the uninformed, John Denver was a major pop music and television star of the 1970s and was also the leading man in the film “Oh, God,” with George Burns. The foundation of this success was his songwriting career that built on a hit for folkies Peter, Paul, & Mary called “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and a subsequent artist career that was sort of a heartland and nature-embracing version of the clean-cut image the Carpenters promoted all the way to stardom in the ’70s.
As a kid, I listened as my father played the live record “An Evening with John Denver” endlessly on the car stereo while hoping to someday live in the songs’ picturesque Colorado mountainland and countryside. The lyrics were romantic and story based. Many of the songs were folk ballads and each one advertised a whole different way of life that either communed with nature or remembered a time that seemed to be like “Little House on the Prairie,” except with cars — I think — maybe… I was never sure if John Denver’s characters had telephones or radio. With that as the background, the last and perhaps most important thing I have to share with the uninitiated is this: John Denver died in 1997, and all of this was why I had to attend his concert. Confused yet?
I’m not sure if John Denver was correct in his belief that he’d be reincarnated as an eagle, but his live show is being brought back to life with the aid of audio and video technology and the blessing of his estate. In the style of “Elvis: The Concert,” “John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High Concert” features members of Denver’s touring band that play along with video of Denver and his prerecorded voice and guitar from previous live performances. The five-piece backing band included original members Alan Deremo (bass), Chris Nole (piano), and Jim Horn (sax and winds) who you could clearly see in certain camera shots behind Denver. THAT was interesting, to see a 35-year younger version of the same band member projected behind his live frame. In this way, the show not only reaches across the great divide bringing Denver back, but it shatters the passage of time for the living as well.
But how was the music? Actually, pretty excellent! The live capture showcased Denver’s reputation as a great live performer, even posthumously. The band was pretty tight and the sound was big once they got the bassist in the PA. Once it was dialed in, it was great. Hearing Denver’s two “big production” staples (“Calypso” and “The Eagle and the Hawk”) with a live backing band in an auditorium gave them a whole new life. Denver’s ‘once-live’ vocal was filled with passion in a way the original studio recording couldn’t deliver.
I got a chance to speak with the engineer controlling Denver’s audio/video “avatar” and was surprised to see that there was no hard time code lock between Denver’s audio and video tracks. He told me this gave him a certain advantage to be able to tighten Denver’s audio and video in real time based on the size of the auditorium and the associated audio delays at center of house. On a few songs, I caught some syncing of Denver’s mouth to the lyrics on the fly in the opening bars of the track, but there were no major issues.
Overall, this was a fascinating and entertaining way to keep spreading the word about Denver’s music, philosophy and song catalog as well as providing a chance for the players to continue playing together and connecting with fans. Short interviews with Denver were interspersed telling little bits about the background of songs and his world view on wilderness and nature, his underlying passions that made John Denver the who he was.
Dave Carlock is a 26-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising.