The Sage Gateshead
JOURNALISTS tend to overuse the phrase 'musical legend,' but Leon Russell is the real deal.
The Oklahoma-born piano hero worked as a session musician for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Doris Day to Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys.
But his solo glory days came in the early 1970s, with his timeless originals Delta Lady and A Song for You.
Now 69, Russell has recently emerged from commercial oblivion, thanks to a collaboration on last year's album, The Union, with long-time admirer Elton John.
While age and brain surgery have certainly taken their physical toll on the once-vibrant performer with the famous white beard, who now walks gingerly with a stick for support, Russell's rock and roll spirit still burns bright.
Stationary but bolt-upright on his piano stool throughout his 90-minute set, Russell, backed by a bluesy and brilliant four-piece band, tore through his illustrious back catalogue for a small but appreciative audience.
Opening with Delta Lady - a huge hit for Joe Cocker - Russell wrapped his raspy tonsils round the country classic Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms, Honky Tonk Women, Kansas City, Baby What You Want Me To Do - complete with a funny story about blues great Jimmy Reed - Georgia On My Mind and even a countrified version of The Beatles' I've Just Seen a Face.
But the undoubted highlight of the show was A Song for You - his finest song - Russell tugging at the heartstrings while fixed in a single spotlight.
The only regret was the number of empty seats - fans really did miss a musical legend.