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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Axton Goes Easy at Crazy Horse

September 16, 1993|NOEL DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — Hoyt Axton has always injected so much joie de vivre into his songs and live performances that it came as a shock when he got ill during his late set at the Crazy Horse last June and had to leave the stage.

For this rambunctious, larger-than-life troubadour to be felled by the same afflictions that plague the rest of us seemed as likely as Santa Claus getting stuck in the chimney--something that just couldn't happen.

Although he didn't exactly come bounding back during his 1-hour, 35-minute set Tuesday night at the Crazy Horse in Santa Ana, Axton was as witty as ever. He began the evening by assuring his fans, in his own inimitable way, that he was back on his feet. "I'm getting younger and prettier every day," he quipped as he took the stage, "clean living and pure thoughts--that's all it takes!" Still, Axton seemed lethargic. Always laid-back, during his early set Axton was casual to the point of self-indulgence.

After opening with his 1976 hit, "Flash of Fire," Axton launched into a series of mean-spirited Clinton jokes that bombed so badly many people in the audience started yelling "Music!" and "Sing some songs!"

Later in the evening, Axton laid the political jibes aside and turned his humor on himself to better effect.

After making a few cracks about the Burt Reynolds-Loni Anderson divorce, the ample Axton quipped, "I'm twice the man Burt is if you go by weight." Axton fired off several other clever one-liners, but at times he rambled and seemed to lose track of the story he was telling.

Although Axton's meandering song introductions caused the pace to lag at many points, his close rapport with his fans made such lapses forgivable.

When he finally got around to singing, Axton's music was as effective as ever. Although he hasn't had a hit record in over a decade, Axton's songs have the durability of classic folk songs.

The stories and characters in such Axton standards as "Evangelina" and "Dolls and the Dealer" are so sharply drawn that the songs could hold an audience even if he sang them in his sleep, which was almost the case Tuesday.

Whether he was introducing a new song or re-creating old favorites such as "Bony Fingers" and "Lion in the Winter," Axton sang with charm but little energy or verve. Fortunately, his lively eight-piece band kept the pace from dragging. Fiddle legend Dennis Fetchet, a longtime Axton sideman, livened many songs with his creative instrumental work.

Although Axton's energy level never got much above tepid, his rich baritone was in fine form. Axton included many of his own compositions in his 17-song set, but he also included several numbers written by others. Axton has such a distinctive way with a song that even such numbers as The Band's frequently covered "The Weight," Michael Martin Murphy's "Geronimo's Cadillac" and the Mel McDaniel's hit "Stand Up" sounded like Axton originals.

Still at many times Axton often seemed to be going through the motions. He introduced "Joy to the World," his signature tune which was a huge hit for Three Dog Night in the early '70s, as "our customary set closer" and he performed it as if he couldn't wait to get off the stage.

Perhaps all these years of touring are beginning to wear on Axton, and he needs to rearrange his set and try some new combinations of songs to get his creativity flowing again.

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