Read mythsofsisyphus’ detailed recap of Saturday night’s Idols Live show at the historic Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountainview, CA.
The low-down on me: I’m a law student (yes, it makes me die inside sometimes too) and an aspiring-to-mediocrity twenty-something who goes to school in Los Angeles, CA. I’m also a hobby musician (guitar, vocals, and keyboard) and hobby writer (I run a little Idol commentary blog on the side). I was raised on classic rock and Motown (The Eagles, John Mellencamp, and Smokey Robinson are all daily requirements), and my current taste in music tends to run along the same paths. I’ve been a devoted follower of the show since its inception all those years ago. Not surprisingly, Lee was my guy during the show this year, and David Cook is probably my favorite contestant of all-time.
The Shoreline Amphitheatre is a mid-sized, outdoor arena with a lot of history (Peter Frampton did some amazing gigs there back in the day). What’s particularly special about the arena is that the stadium isn’t very deep, so even if you’re in the dead back, you’re not far away from the stage (as my mother said, “every seat in the house is good”.) I went with my folks and my teen-aged brother, the latter of whom believed himself too cool to be there (he’s totally not, which was obvious when he rocked out to Siobhan’s entire set). We had seats near the back (in front of the lawn), but right near the center, and the view was mainly unobstructed. The seating area was about sixty percent full when the show started, and, after intermission, probably topped ninety percent for final four performers (though the lawn remained remarkably bare, despite the $10 deals on tickets that Idol ran this summer). It was obvious that the Idols sincerely appreciated the dramatically larger-than-average crowd that filled the Shoreline, and the plethora of enthusiasm they brought.
The Fog Machine Dude was clearly hitting the good stuff during the concert, because the smoke was out of control. Seriously. I feel like the people near the front (and Siobhan, who was clouded in a dark haze during the bulk of her set) were probably close to death about ten minutes into the concert. This wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I didn’t feel that the smoke played merry hell with the sound quality from the acoustic guitars (which was particularly noticeable during both Crystal and Lee’s sets). I also had a big problem with the overall “cheap” feeling of the stage set. It was never more obvious to me that the wallets behind Idol want this season to die a slow, painful death than when the “surprise” entrances from the performers consisted of them entering from somewhere other than upstage center (a far cry from the elegant trap doors of the last few Idol tours.)
BREAKDOWN OF THE PERFORMERS
I really, really want to like Didi Benami. Sure, I had some problems with her incessant crying on the show, but I think there’s a real chance to make something very Sheryl Crow out of her. Unfortunately, Didi didn’t exactly go out of her way to pick songs that complement her lovely tone. I also questioned her choice of heavy instrumentation on Terrified. I understand why doing an entirely acoustic rendition would have been difficult outside of a small venue, but it feels like there was some happy medium in between the hypothetical Didi and Her Guitar and the reality of Didi, Her Guitar, And The Really Loud Bass Player Who Drowned Out Didi And Her Guitar.
Andrew Garcia pleasantly surprised me. I suppose this might have to do with my exceedingly low expectations, but Andrew seemed more at home on stage than many of his Idol counterparts. While the almost reggae feel to Straight Up was more than a little strange (I suffered an unintentional flashback to Under My Thumb in the process), his delightfully understated take on Sunday Morning was a real treat. I hope to see him pursue something along the acoustic Maroon 5 path in the future, because I think he has a real shot at being a decent regional artist if he does.
Perhaps I missed the memo, but Katie Stevens clearly thinks she’s a lot older than she is. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. In fact, her very mature take on Fighter proved to me that she deserved to go much father in the competition than she did. Katie’s vocals are arguably much stronger overall than Crystal’s (though Crystal was clearly more self-assured), which should serve her well in her search for a label. Of course, her outfit was just a hint more revealing than some parents would have liked (I distinctly heard somebody say “we’ll pretend she’s eighteen tonight”), but Katie is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with when she actually sings the right songs.
Tim Urban is pretty. Like, ridiculously pretty. This ended up being fortunate, because his singing during the show? Not so pretty. To be fair, I think Tim’s plentiful problems with pitch and tone were more a result of poor song choice than actual vocal (in)capabilities. Out of all the contestants, I felt Tim had the worst picks for his two numbers (Johnny Rzeznik, who Tim appears to be channeling with his rocking new hairdo, probably cries himself to sleep every time Tim butchers Better Days). What makes me truly upset is that I thought Tim would have positioned himself better as some sort of singer-songwriter for his post-Idol career. Alas, I wonder whether that particular ship has already set sail without our favorite mop-top wonderboy onboard.
I should confess this: I was never a big Siobhan Magnus fan. I’m not saying that she doesn’t have a powerful instrument, I just don’t happen to like the tone of said instrument. Tonight was no exception. On an entirely superficially level, it took awhile for me to take her seriously with that outfit (who else thinks it resembles the Hot Topic-friendly version of the getup Sandra Bullock wore for the talent portion in Miss Congeniality?), but her appearance aside, there were deeper issues in Siobhan’s set. While Paint It Black proved to be the same raw, delicious spectacle it was during the show, Spiderwebs was vocally out of her considerable range, and Stockholm Syndrome was just plain painful on a vocal and theatrical level. As my brother said, it was a little sad watching someone trying so hard to be a rocker and failing so miserably. Due props to Siobhan, however, for doing something dramatically different and actually enjoying herself during the show. Even though I see her as a failed rocker, I’ll take failed rocker over the brand of mellow acoustic singer-songwriter that too many of the performers went overboard with.
After hearing Aaron Kelly live, it literally astounds me that he hasn’t been signed yet. I mean, quite honestly, Aaron (high!) schooled each and every one of the performers before and after him. While the sway of his hips is more than a little disconcerting (I really hope he figures out how to dance one of these days), Aaron easily has the most marketable voice of the Touring Ten. He’s also the only person besides Casey who seemed to realize that up-tempo songs are friends, not foes on the Idol tour. Each and every one of his numbers showcased different elements of his vocals (which were beyond flawless, something not achieved by any other performer during the evening), and I appreciated the effort he put into making each number crowd-friendly. I expect big things from this kid in the very near future.
The group version of The Climb was unintentionally amusing. It hurts me to say this, but Miley does it better. Ouch.
Big Michael Lynche’s set can only be described as a hot mess, which is really too bad because I expected so much more from him. While Woman’s Work was sung just as flawlessly as it was during his time on Idol, that particular emotional moment has more than been expended. The intimate Kate Bush classic just seemed cheesy when sung to such a large and impersonal audience. While Ready for Love was a better pick, the lighting setup made it a little hard to take seriously, and you could hear the audience getting a restless as the song progressed. My Love was probably the worst choice of the bunch, because it doesn’t suit Mike’s range at all (though the rap was hilarious, and I always appreciate a little hilarity at a concert.) Overall, the effort was valiant, but things just didn’t mesh for the fourth-place finisher.
Mr. Pretty (Big Mike’s choice of words to describe Casey James, not mine) was exactly how you expect him to be: A freaking fantastic guitar player who also happens to sing. Perhaps this isn’t giving Casey his due credit, as his vocals were stronger than they ever managed to be on the show. I applaud Casey for divorcing himself from the negative criticism he received on the show for being too “jam band”, because the band-like quality is exactly what endeared him to the audience. I will say that I was slightly thrown off by the interjection of Don’t, but I suppose Casey’s fingers were owed a well-due rest after the bombastic electric guitar playing they did on the Black Keys number. Kudos to Casey for picking my favorite song of the evening, It’s All Over Now, which every over-forty member of the audience screamed along to (including my starstruck mother).
Second confession: I gave Crystal Bowersox a lot of flack while she was on the show. And while I stand by my firm belief that she’s never going to be marketable in the say way that some of the lesser vocalists in the group will be (I’m looking at you, Tim Urban), that didn’t stop me from immensely enjoying Crystal’s set. Up To the Mountain was absolutely stunning. I came close to tears during the final chorus. Same goes for her take on What’s Up, which the audience seemed to get the biggest kick of out. However, it baffles me that she chose to reprise Come to My Window, which she once again struggled to connect to emotionally and vocally. I also think the arrangement on Piece of My Heart was poor, as it felt like it took about three-quarters of the song before the real fun began (probably because of the acoustic-over-electric choice Bowersox made). Overall, Crystal gave the most uneven set of the evening, but she still managed to shine.
Lee DeWyze’s set suffered from obvious David Cook envy (or was it blatant David Cook adoration?). Lee took it upon himself to rearrange each and every song to pay homage to Cook’s debut album. Now, while I love Cook, it was odd to me to hear Lee, who I have always thought of as being akin to early Jackson Browne, trying to do the pseudo-grunge thing. The Cook-esque style was especially ill-fitting on Rocket Man (the oddly placed Pink Floyd Welcome To The Machine mashup in the middle threw me for a bit of a loop) and his belabored version of Hallelujah, which he seemed emphatically unenthusiastic about singing despite his earlier comments to the contrary. That being said, while the Cook vibe threw me off, I still enjoyed his set. Lee’s strongest performance was clearly his twisted remix of Treat Her like a Lady (not coincidentally, my favorite performance of his during the show), though his maiming of the lyrics lead to some odd sentences that were both grammatically incorrect and downright physically impossible.
The final group song, as expected, was trainwrecky in the best of ways. On the one hand, everything got so violently out of tune that I came pretty darn close to leaving early to save myself some money on a future hearing aid. On the other hand, it gave me the opportunity to shout Kelly Clarkson at the top of my lungs and annoy the heck out of the guy next to me, so we’ll call it a draw.
All things being considered, Aaron was the standout performer of the evening, followed closely by Casey, and then trailed slightly by Lee and Crystal. For the most part, the audience seemed to agree, though Siobhan did manage to wrangle some mighty loud cheers at the end of her set.
AFTER THE SHOW
My family and I stuck around for the autograph session (which was ridiculously crowded, as the walkway to the parking lot bottlenecked in about two minutes flat). As expected, the crazies were out in full force (leftovers from Friday the 13th, I believe). While the Top 3 were shoved around by their respective handlers in a manner akin to a child being forced by his mother through the supermarket, I was personally surprised at the affability of the remaining contestants. Each one seems to know exactly how much support he or she is going to need in order to extend his/her fifteen minutes of fame. I was especially impressed with Tim, Aaron, and Mike, who seemed all too excited to give out hugs and to any person willing to be on the receiving end of one. I hope that time and effort will pay off for them in the near future.
SUMMING IT UP
Overall, I had a fantastic time at the show. Sure, there was a lack of polish and some iffy song choices, but there was definitely something special in the air last. Each performer, despite his or her shortcomings, seemed to give 110 percent to the crowd, and it was thoroughly appreciated by every member of the audience.