Having appeared in Southern California late last year with his full entourage, Johnny Cash made a stop in Hollywood with a stripped-down version of his show as part of a brief tour promoting his year-old acoustic album “American Recordings.” Aside from a backup singer or two and the fact that Dave Rorick played standup bass instead of bass guitar throughout, it was the same sort of show Cash has been performing for more than 30 years.
Which is just fine, satisfying longtime fans as well as those newcomers who are buying into the proposition that Cash is rediscovering his roots these days.
The audience included a mix of celebrities ranging from model Christy Turlington to comic Morey Amsterdam, as well as musicians Tom Petty, Don Was and Dwight Yoakam.
Cash’s long performance, nearly two hours, included a good representation of his more than 130 charted country hits, from his Sun Records days on. Included were such out-and-out commercial efforts as “Ghost Riders in the Sky,””Long Black Veil,””Ring of Fire” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” as well as the more idiosyncratic Cash originals “Get Rhythm,””Big River” and a version of “I Walk the Line,” on which Cash twined a sheet of paper through his guitar strings, as he did on the record, to get a more percussive sound.
He performed several songs from the new album on Rick Rubin’s American label, most of them backed (as on the record) only by his acoustic guitar: Among them were Nick Lowe’s “The Beast in Me,” Loudon Wainwright III’s wry “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry” and the traditional “Delia’s Gone.”
One of Cash’s more unusual choices was “North to Alaska,”a movie title song popularized by Johnny Horton and sounding almost traditional in this context. More off-the-wall choices like that, and some of his less-performed hits, would have made the show more special.
Wife June Carter appeared for a set of duets including their hit “Jackson” and led the audience in the old Carter Family hit “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Son John Carter Cash, who played rhythm guitar throughout, was spotlighted on his own “February.” (Johnny Cash’s son sounds like Harry Chapin — who’d have guessed?)
Singer-songwriter Beck opened the show in the spirit of things, performing mush-mouthed renditions of country blues by the likes of Skip James and Mance Lipscomb while flailing away at various acoustic guitars and banjo and ignoring his own DGC album, “Mellow.”
An enthusiastic performer with a witty, self-effacing attitude, he largely captured the attention of Cash’s audience, even those who didn’t seem to know quite what to make him.