Of late, the Ed Sullivan Theatre at 1697-1699 Broadway has been subjected to a level of interest not seen since the days when Elvis Presley appeared there in the fifties and the Beatles in the sixties. The venerable venue first made headlines after it opened as Hammerstein’s Theater back in November 1927. Its grand title was bequeathed in honour of Oscar Hammerstein 1, whose opera-producing son Arthur was responsible for the financing and designing. The name that now occupies the brightly-lit marquee and has done so for the past sixteen years, is that of David Letterman. “The Late Show with David Letterman” is the latest in a long line of television programmes to be broadcast from the premises by CBS, and it joins a sanctified list that includes What’s My Line, the Merv Griffin Show, the Honeymooners and Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town.
During the past couple of weeks, Letterman has become toast in the eyes of the competition. On the plus side he’s fared well, trouncing Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show in the Nielsen ratings and outpacing Jay Leno’s fractious new primetime slot. But TV personalities across every network have a field day poking fun at the man, ever since he admitted on screen his involvement in a series of dalliances in the workplace. Unfortunately for Davy boy, the whistleblower on this occasion is not your standard disgruntled employee. Letterman’s nemesis turns out to be a CBS producer named Robert Joe Halderman. The fact that Dave was seeing the same intern from the “Late Night Show” as Halderman was, tipped the love bandit over the edge. Halderman has subsequently been arrested and charged with attempted blackmail. Needless to say, the press has been having a field day. According to the New York Daily News the recently married Letterman had a ‘crash pad’ installed at the top of the Ed Sullivan theatre, on the basis that the facility enables him to ‘relax’ at all times of the day: Cue the payoff. Based on the fact that the theatre with the love nest was once linked to Elvis Presley, the paper printed the headline – “From Houndog to Horndog”.
Whilst all of this palaver was going on, CBS flew its ‘business as usual’ flag by staging a Tim McGraw webcast under the banner of “Live on Letterman”. When a pair of fast-track tickets courtesy of the company’s Interactive Music Group landed on my doorstep, along I went. I’d seen Tim on two previous occasions at the Nashville Arena in front of 18,000 screaming fans, but this was an altogether different experience. First and foremost the Ed Sullivan Theatre is a far more intimate venue (just ask David Letterman), so the place was well-suited to a concert of this sort. Being as this took place in a seen-it-all city I would have thought that the audience would have been a little on the ‘cool’ side, but not so. Everyone present seemed determined to raise Cain, and from the minute the McGraw band ambled on stage the place went bananas. The roar was so deafening when their paymaster finally materialized, you’d have thought Faith Hill had joined her husband on stage. It wasn’t the night though, for any overworked clichés.
The nine pickers got straight down to business and from the opening sass of ‘Something Like That (BBQ Stain)’ to the ironically-titled ‘I Like It, I Love It, I Want Some More Of It’, Tim Mcgraw proceeded to play to the gallery and the stalls, as well as Letterman’s rumoured rendezvous. The core value of the event, particularly for the artist, was the timely moment for unveiling some of the material from “Southern Voice”. Released in the past few days, this is Tim McGraw’s first new album since Curb Records stemmed his flow by swamping the market with a string of “Greatest Hits” collections. The poignant ‘If I Died Today’ cleffed by the Warren Brothers, Brett and Brad, proved to be the star turn in this department. Although as far as the amorous couple in front of me were concerned, the heart-tugging sentiment of ‘My Best Friend’ was clearly the whole kit and canoodle. The album’s title track complete with a set of wailing Hohner harmonica fills epitomized that familiar link between country couplets and a Stones backbeat. The song happens to be a neat roll call that manages to namecheck Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Dolly Parton and Jerry Lee in one fell swoop.
Back in my Nashville days I once rubbed shoulders with the McGraw family in a corporate suite at a Predators’ ice-hockey game. The evening was particularly memorable because whenever the home team scored, the JumboTron would show a video of Tim singing ‘I Like It, I Love It, I Want Some More Of It’ complete with a set of puck-inspired lyrics. This was the song that wrapped up his 40-minute webcast, and the crowd responded as if the Preds had already won the play-offs. Right now I’ve had my fill of jerky funked-up rhythms and the kind of discophonic panderings that dominate our daily routines. So to these ears the welcome sound of a baion kick drum and a raft of tasteful soloing, added up to a breath of fresh musical air. And before we get through with the plaudits, kudos to the man himself for adopting the right amount of down-homeness. I departed the theatre knowing that this easy-rider with a leather Stetson and the kind of designer denims that make the ladies go ga-ga, is proof enough that cowboy chic is alive and kicking. There’s only one difference. It’s now known as Brand McGraw.