One day after the Pope occupied the Universal Amphitheatre stage, a figure stood there bathed in heavenly blue back-lighting, reassuring those "in the darkness" that "tonight you belong to me."
And that entrance wasn't the end to Dan Fogelberg's messianic--or at least papal--tendencies Wednesday, the first of a two-night stand at the Universal. During a mid-show solo acoustic segment, he joked (well, it sounded like a joke) that it was probably easier for him to follow the Pope than the other way around, and performed his 1981 hit "Leader of the Band," which paints his father as a near-Christlike figure.
But where John Paul II's message is of hope, the bulk of Fogelberg's material, performed with a look of smug self-satisfaction, offers loneliness as the only inevitability of life. And when he did sing of love, as in the acoustic "With You," it was with drippy sentimentality worthy of Hallmark.
Fogelberg, who used to be known as a Jackson Browne/Eagles type, and whose last album and tour two years ago focused on bluegrass, now fancies himself a Robert Palmer-ish, blue-eyed soulster. In truth, he's surprisingly good at it, with a voice very much like Palmer's. But it wasn't until the second encore of Muddy Waters' "Blow Wind Blow" (now there's a convincing song about loneliness) that he and his competent, but too-often faceless six-piece band, mustered an adequate amount of grit in the performance.
Opening act Wendy Waldman, a former local singer/songwriter who now lives in Nashville, came off like a folkie with a will to rock, but had neither the wherewithal nor the band to pull it off.