By: Butch Ewing
July 5, 2010
An unspoken, friendly competition exists between the Hot Summer Nights series on Friday nights in Odessa and the Museum of the Southwest Sunday night lawn concerts. It is one that Odessa appears to be besting its neighbor in by leaps and bounds.
At 7:45 p.m. last Friday the park was packed for “Eddy Irving and the Classic Swing Band,” and by the time they started, there was little room left for the customary chairs and blankets. Obviously the quality reputation of this band is known — and it is a well founded one.
Most groups take at least a couple of songs to warm up before they reach full performing energy. Irving and his band are an exception, laying into “Can You Imagine How Much I Love You” at full, sultry blast. Irving has a great voice, ideally suited to this type of music. Crooning at one point, reaching down for near baritone notes at the next — he is one of those singers who brings both feeling and technique to songs. Every word was clearly intelligible, and with them, each change of emotion.
Irving even brought something new to songs as familiar as “Summertime.” From a languid mellowness to a type of seething energy — you could almost touch the sensuous atmosphere of a humid deep-South summer.
The lead singer has the perfect backing setup, with steady drums, base and keyboards providing the platform for Tom Leper, who excels on everything from trumpet to flute to trombone. Leper’s contemplative, haunting version of John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood” echoed the songwriter’s ambivalence towards the extra-marital affair that he was writing about.
But the overall feel of the evening was a perhaps naïve — but irresistible — celebration of perfect romantic love. In “The Way You Look Tonight,” Irving dove deep below his normal range for the “you’re lovely” — reaching a soft and yet gravelly note that seemed to express the quiet amazement a man can feel when looking at a beautiful woman.
Ending the first set with “Fever,” the audience clicked their thumbs with remarkable accuracy, but a male voice can never quite express the sensuality of this song. While it was originally sung by a man, it is Peggy Lee that made it her own.
The second half started with an upbeat version of Van Morrison’s “Mood-dance” — just as the moon was serendipitously rising above the trees to light the park. Irving’s voice was gorgeous during “Amazing Grace,” while Leper’s reflective flute expressed the melancholy undertones of “The Look of Love.” During this song the dance area was quite full — couples lost in their own worlds, barely moving to the gentle rhythm of the music.
Irving said their last song would be a “celebration of a serial killer” — something that perked the interest of several children around me, including my son. The unmistakable tones of “Mack the Knife” soon rang out — perhaps the most irresistibly fun song ever written about mass murder. Irving showed some acting ability as he seemed possessed by the delight in violence that permeates this song.
For an encore, “Eddy Irving and the Classic Swing Band” gave us “On the Sunny Side of the Street” — a rollicking end to a lovely evening of entertainment. Whatever mood individuals had arrived in at the beginning of the evening, they left the park happy, whistling, optimistic about life — at least for a while.
You can ask no more from a band.
Congratulations to Main Street Odessa and OCA&H for bringing such a great act to the city for a free evening of music. The only disappointment was Irving ended his concert at just after 9.30 — I think many in the audience were ready for at least another hour — or two.
By Graham Dixon