While a sold-out house waited for Joe Cocker to take the stage Monday night at the Wiltern Theatre, a tape of the Blues Brothers' old records was playing--an appropriate choice, given the late John Belushi's penchant for doing raging, wild-man-of-rock impressions of Cocker on "Saturday Night Live."
When Cocker did appear, he looked fit as a fiddle--rather like one of rock music's elder statesmen. The only wild thing about him was the print of his leopard-skin jacket. Following a turbulent personal and musical history, Cocker scored the biggest hit of his career in 1982 when he recorded "Up Where We Belong," the theme to the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." And while he hasn't had a major hit since, at least he projects a different image these days: polished and professional.
Cocker's voice did sound nearly shot for the early part of the evening, a condition he blamed on a concert the night before in San Francisco, where, he grumbled, "I guess I overdid it." But that was more than compensated by a ferocious, rattle-the-rafters nine-piece band (including horn section) and three female backup singers.
Cocker burned his way through a raucous version of Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On," then turned tender on "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress." Toward the end of his hour-plus set he seemed to catch his second wind, his voice coming across in wild-man-of-rock fashion on "Shelter Me" and the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends."