It may be tempting to think that the experience of attending any Arts in the Park show (8 p.m., Norvell Band Shell, Friday nights through July) is the same as attending any other one. Not so, a fair-sized crowd discovered last weekend.
It was hot and the air was heavy — hotter and heavier than the weekend before when we saw the Artrageous performance. The crowd was older than it had been seven days back, and it seemed to contain a high component of couples, which made for a different sort of crowd response.
And J.B. Leighton, a thoroughly professional Minneapolis rock band, wasn’t much like Artrageous. They were more like dance bands that played at Canterbury Court and Charlie’s in the early 1970s. Some of the couples in attendance may have met at some of those local dances.
Hot, hot, hot it was. One of Brian Leighton’s few comments during the two-hour show was that it was 60 degrees in Minnesota the day before, when the band left. We all went physically conservative, sitting still and hoping for breezes that never came.
The members of the band may have held themselves in a little, too. Theirs was not a flashy physical performance. The smoke machine yielded up a few coughing puffs and then closed down. No high kicking or duck walking here — it was just too blamed hot.
Now the band played with laudable precision. But the closest we got to big dynamic shifts was the dropping out of accompanying instruments during the last verse of maybe half a dozen of the 20 songs. In fact, the arrangements were only occasionally ornamental and were never risky.
Risk wasn’t what Leighton and the band had to offer. Swede Patrik Tanner played dependable guitar solos but was often lost in the mix. Bassist Dave Crowell and drummer Ryan Inselman kept time with precision and sang most of the backup lines. The only adventurous player in the group was keyboard and accordion specialist Adam Daniel, whose at least partly improvised lead lines didn’t get enough gain in the PA, either.
Lead singer, harmonica player and rhythm guitarist Leighton chorded away steadily on a black Telecaster guitar, going almost immediately from one song to the next. Much of the material was original. Most was midtempo.
The songs were in familiar idioms rather than being somehow experimental. The influence of Bruce Springsteen were obvious, but there was a little bit here and there that evoked the Eagles. And if those referents suggest a pop flavor, at least the music was dance band pop.
The most notable features of the songs were the spare bass and drum lines. Crowell played spotlight passages in a couple of songs but he usually lay back and kept the tempo steady.
Inselman’s playing was even more stripped down, to the point that he frequently preferred quarter note bass drum lines to anapests. This had the effect of making everything sound just a little more country than it would have ordinarily.
It was easiest to recognize what the band was doing when we heard them do familiar songs. Darius Rucker’s “Rock Me Mama Like a Wagon Wheel” got a treatment no more percussive than what one usually hears from strumming folk acts. Lindsey Buckingham’s “Second Hand News” was comparatively spite-less.
And “Like a Rolling Stone,” perhaps surprisingly little performed except by Dylan, sounded a lot like Leighton’s “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” “One Foot Over,” and “Further on Up the Road.” This suggests that the Leighton band sounds like the Leighton band and that’s it. As the sound wasn’t in any way offensive, maybe that’s not a bad thing.
Oh, one slow dance number was a little like a blue light Couples Dance at the skating rink. But that was an outlier.
There were no outliers here in terms of quality. Leighton and his band played a remarkably consistent concert. But the evening wasn’t much like the one a week before. That’s a sort of variety.