January 17, 2024
To collect is to “bring or gather together”. When it comes to the Jim Irsay Collection it is truly a gathering, together. Mr. Irsay the billionaire Indianapolis Colts owner has a huge rock and roll heart. His collection is far more than the treasured objects he has acquired and takes on tour each year. Objects that would rightfully sit alongside any in the Smithsonian AND the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Handwritten letters from Washington and Jefferson Kerouac’s original manuscript for On the Road (a 120-foot long typewritten scroll), Ringo’s ’64 kit with the drum head from The Beatles Ed Sullivan debut, John’s piano from the Sgt. Pepper sessions Dylan’s Strat that shook Newport Folk in ’65 from a collection Guitar.com dubbed “the greatest guitar collection on earth”. This dude loves the music and the culture that spawned it.
Sure the Collection is a traveling museum, but it’s also an all-star band of veterans that hits 4-5 cities a year. The 2024 Los Angeles edition featured blues slinger Kenny Wayne Shepherd, drummer Kenny Aranoff, and Mike Mills of REM, among others, and the likes of Buddy Guy, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Ann Wilson (Heart), Peter Wolf (J. Geils Band), and Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon), all taking their guest turns (Stephen Stills, and Mr. Irsay himself were unfortunate scratches due to illness). But here’s the belly rub – these shows are all free. Heck, there was even a free VIP lounge (if you RSVPed) with excellent food and a wide open bar. While l heard of some entry glitches (long waits getting in), in this age of stupid ticket pricing the show was a huge give back to the 6300 or so that packed the old Shrine Auditorium.
This date was only peripherally on my radar, and I hadn’t been to the Shrine this century, but I have to say that the production values especially lighting and video were top notch. In fact it was some of the best shooting lighting I’ve encountered in a room that size in recent memory, and with no photo pit to speak of, staff provided all the photographers with chairs (uh, that’s a first).
Given the announced guests it wasn’t surprising the evening leaned heavily 70s, which was fine by me and the capacity crowd of a certain vintage. Buddy Guy kicked it off and any chance to still see the 87-year old blues legend is special, let alone trading licks with Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who followed with his own mini-set including his best known tune “Blue on Black”. Mike Mills followed with two REM tunes and I gotta say that hearing “Superman” in all its punchy chimey glory lit me up for the rest of the night. The band went deep on Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar”and “Comfortably Numb”, with Kenny Wayne Shepherd doing justice to David Gilmour’s black Strat from The Wall and some furiously satisfying soloing. Ann Wilson’s pipes stood up to “Barracuda” and a take on The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” (shout out to guitarist Tom Bukovac, on these tunes and many others). By the time Kevin Cronin went full REO hits, including “Keep On Loving You” “Riding the Storm Out” and “Roll With the Changes”, everyone was on that Speedwagon. Peter Wolf hasn’t lost his swagger and was a blur of energy while reaching into the Geils way back machine for “Hard Drivin’ Man” and mega hits like “Centerfold” and “Love Stinks”. And, after some two dozen songs at this point, Billy Gibbons, the final guest for the evening, brought it all home with “Sharp Dressed Man” “La Grange” and “Freddie King’s classic “Going Down”, an appropriate bookend to the night with Gibbons, Shepherd and Bukovac all going at it with glee.
The Jim Irsay Collection is not a place, not just stuff. It is a shared rock and roll experience curated for all. Rest up Jim.