Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Concert Review: Adam Lambert / Orianthi/ Allison Iraheta Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, CA 7/28/10

by Randi Reed
Adam Lambert

Having been a cheerleader of Adam Lambert from his first audition on American Idol, it was easy to say yes when a friend asked me to come along to see his show at the Pacific Amphitheatre...

…but I also didn’t know what to expect. Would it be the pseudo electronica alterna-dance Adam of his current CD, For Your Entertainment? Would it be the guylinered, leather-and-black-nail-polished “Rocker Adam” my girlfriends and I all crushed over during his early American Idol episodes?

What about the music? Would it sound like the album, or would the arrangements be the slightly guitar-heavier sound of his TV talk show performances of late? So many questions! Between you and me, after years of working in the live concert business and seeing “the man behind the curtain,” it was nice not knowing what was going to happen going in.

Adam Lambert is so good at what he does, and has such a commanding stage presence, it’s easy to forget this is his first major tour as a solo artist. He has a beautiful voice, which has become clearer and richer since Idol. His stage persona morphs easily from slightly dark magician-esque court jester, to gay cabaret rave dance host, to concerned friend of teens who are worried about feeling like a freak…all while somehow seeming to remain uniquely himself.

Watching him, I kept forgetting that, musical theater experience aside, he’s still pretty new at this. In fact, in my notes I’d just written “Adam Lambert is the male Cher”--which is a good, cool thing by the way; Cher is a fantastic performer--when I was reminded of his newness by a far-too-long “quick” change, complete with empty stage. That would never happen to Cher. Why weren’t the dancers sent out? Since the long “quick change” seemed planned into the production, here the problem stems from poor planning in production design and stage management, not necessarily Adam Lambert. Unfortunately, Adam’s name is the one on the ticket.

Until this point, I’d almost forgiven him for the fact that the show’s opening intro--a recording of “For Your Entertainment,” his CD’s title track--went on too long and that his entrance needed reworking. The logical thing would have been for Adam to go live and pop out from somewhere unexpected on the line “I’m here for your entertainment.” But that never happened. Instead, we were left staring at an empty stage with a backdrop of Adam’s face (from the CD cover) as the song played on…an unnecessary disappointment, and a waste of precious set time.

Additionally, though his musical theater experience serves him well, it hinders his performance as a pop star when it comes to crowd energy management. He commands the stage, but has not yet mastered the crowd. He had them, then the spell--and its accompanying energy--was broken by the long quick change, and then again later by an awkwardly placed introduction of every dancer (individually, by name) in the middle of a high energy dance number that had the crowd dancing only seconds before.

These issues likely stem from the fact that musical theater requires its performers to ignore crowd distractions and keep going according to script. Conversely, being a great live pop or rock star requires paying attention to everything happening in the crowd and ad libbing it to your advantage. … It’s a tough switch, but with his talent, Adam Lambert can do it. Until then, a few changes to the production design could help him out.

Oh, and as for the guylinered, leather-and-black-nail-polished “Rocker Adam”? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss seeing this side of him live. But sometimes guylinered, leather clad rock and roll guys are a dime a dozen. Unique artists like Adam Lambert are needed in this world. Adam’s message that it’s OK to be different is especially important for gay teens…or for that matter, for anyone who’s ever felt awkward or out of place. And that’s every bit as cool.


One has to give guitar phenom Orianthi and her team a lot of credit for pulling together an album and tour after what was undoubtedly a difficult blow, both personally and professionally: Orianthi was the guitarist for Michael Jackson’s ill-fated This is It tour, which was in rehearsals when Michael died suddenly.

Had Michael lived, Orianthi would still be out on that tour as I write this. Knowing what it takes for a relatively unknown to put together an album and tour--let alone having to suddenly switch marketing plans while dealing with the death of your boss--I have a lot of respect for her.

Orianthi has fast fingers, good stage presence, and an interesting look. She clearly has strong rock roots—influences of Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and even a little Slash are evident in her playing. Yet interestingly, she comes off as cheerful, not angry. In fact, Orianthi reminds me in a way of a blonde Suzi Quatro, if Suzi Quatro had a chirpily happy stage persona, sang songs with poppy choruses, and wore white or pastel leather…or perhaps she's like a young Lita Ford, without the F-you attitude.

Much of Oranthi’s music is radio friendly, which her voice fits perfectly. She sings it well, though her voice isn’t unique…not bad at all (if anything, she makes it look too easy), just not unique. Her first single, “According to You,” has a good, poppy chorus with lyrics delivering a surprisingly serious, positive message against emotionally abusive relationships. The juxtaposition works well, making the song stand far above the rest of the songs in the set.

On the negative side, her guitar work was a distraction rather than a plus at times, being a little out of tune and a bit sloppy on a couple of songs that had a more demanding vocal. On “Give Me the Bad News” it was…well, perhaps writing the word “atrocious” in my show notes was too strong, but close. Her vocals were fine, though, so reworking the guitar parts a bit would do the trick here.

Overall, Orianthi delivered decent songs, good stage presence, and a good performance, but her set still needs a little work...perhaps reworking the order of the set list or changing some of the arrangements to vary the tempos. But ultimately, Orianthi seems a good, accessible “starter rock star”…especially for girls who are past Disney but who aren’t quite up to someone more edgy and angry.

Allison Iraheta:

One of the frustrating things about American Idol has been its skill at killing a good artist’s rock cred. Idol’s core audience tends to be frightened by anything edgy or angry, and the audience that would usually like the edgier contestants is kept away by the perception that anyone who’s been on American Idol can’t possibly be cool.

This, I fear, may be the nemesis of Allison Iraheta’s career: the girl is just too cool for American Idol.

With powerful stage presence and a flirty-cool rocker chick stage persona, she comes off wise beyond her years. Her naturally raspy voice sounded a little tour –weary, but it somehow works for her, and sounded edgy and cool rather than tired.

In fact, she reminds me a little of the Divinyls’ Christina Amphlett, but with her own unique vibe, and I can see her potential to develop a similar cult following. But then there’s that damn American Idol thing hanging on her back.

She performed a good set overall, with a decent band, albeit with some “help”: it bothered me that I could hear her voice on the backup vocals and not just on the lead. With her talent, Allison Iraheta doesn’t need to resort to such tricks, which only further lessen her credibility in the rock world…which is a shame, because without the Idol mark on her back, I feel she could be a contender to be huge in the rock world. (A colleague remarked, “Maybe she could change her name and start over to get rid of the Idol thing?”)

All in all, I enjoyed Allison's set and would see her again; frankly, I enjoyed her performance more than Orianthi’s. Aside from the vocal help, the only major flaw I could find with Allison Iraheta’s performance was that it came to an abrupt end; she ran offstage with nary a “thank you”, bow, or goodnight.

But first tours are for learning that sort of thing.


Follow me on Twitter @MusicBizAdvice.

ETA 7/14: a broken Twitter link and to correct a typo in Alison's review.--RR

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