Posts Tagged ‘Concert Review’

Exuberant and Vegas-like: The US Debut of Kylie Minogue’s “Aphrodite” tour

May 1, 2011

Before Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Christina Aguilera brought the outrageous stage show back to mainstream pop, there were the likes of Madonna, Bette Midler, and Cher paving the way. There was also an Australian pop singer making the waves in the late 80s when she shot to number one via a remake of the “The Loco-Motion.” Her name is Kylie Minogue. In the 20 years since, she’s gone to entertain audiences the world over, earn the praise of Simon Cowell, and survive a bout with breast cancer. Like Madonna, Cher, and Midler she gained attention for her myriad of costume changes and stage show. To see Minogue perform isn’t just to watch a concert but to watch a production big enough to sell out Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. She knows how to captivate and hold an audience under her spell.

She’s been touring overseas for the better part of 2011,  and brought her Aphrodite: Les Follies tour tour to America April 29 at the Agganis Arena in Boston. I was honored to be attending her US tour opening because I’d wanted to see Minogue in concert for years. I don’t know where I first came of this, but I’ve always known she puts on more of a show then a concert. And for all the anticipation built up in my head, she didn’t disappoint. The show was everything I expected and unlike anything I’d ever seen.  She didn’t captivate me like Sarah McLachlan, or mesmerize like Sarah Brightman, but it doesn’t mean I liked it any less.

You always know a concert is going to be special when the singer rises up from the stage sitting in a giant gold seashell in the opening number. I’d always heard of grand entrances for concerts but hadn’t ever seen them. She made her presence known, to the delight of her screaming fans. She opened the show with her song “Aphrodite,” which served as the vision for the tour, as well as being the title track to her latest album. I didn’t quite know what that word meant and after educating myself once I got home, the whole night began to make sense. While watching the show, I felt it had an Egyptian feel with the three staircases and giant columns but upon a quick Google search realized it was Greek.

Unlike a lot of acts that have to force themselves to perform, oppose to just sing, Minogue really knew how to use the stage. Each song was choreographed down to the letter and involved another costume change. The visuals were the best part of the whole experience. Each segment of the performance provided another reason for Minogue to make a grand entrance and showcase another outlandish outfit. If she wasn’t being carried on a buggy dragged by hunky men, she was being surrounded by female dancers and giant feathers. Each moment perfectly captured the feeling of the concert. In one segment she came out wearing a short dress and top hat while in another a sparkly dress that could be seen for miles.

My biggest gripe of the night was not knowing any but two of the songs. Through deductive reasoning I was able to figure out the opening number, but beyond that each song was new to me. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it means I don’t have any basis to comment on how the particular stage performance matched the lyrical content of the musical numbers. The two songs I knew were her most recognizable mainstream singles – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and “The Loco-Motion.”  In fact, it was the former that introduced me to her music. That song was so popular, American Idol used it as a group number a few seasons ago on the results show for a “songs from the year you were born” performance week. They all pulled it off. 

But what Minogue does so brilliantly, is make her concert less about the music and more about the theatrics. When the concert was over, I wasn’t thinking about the lyrics as much as how it was presented on stage. I would have to say the two most vivid visuals of the night was the human horse and buggy and during one segment a parade of naked men on the video screens. While I thought the naked men were to satisfy her male fans, it was really a comment on sexuality. In fact, the whole show was an exploration of sex, hence the tour’s title. In many ways, Minogue is akin to a sex kitten, purring her way though the night. While she has a powerful voice, when Minogue sings in her upper register, her voice tends to get squeaky and small; almost orgasmic. It added to the overall effect of the show to be sure.

But what really surprised me was the emphasis put on Minogue’s vocals. I was expecting her to lip-sync her way though the night to make room for dancing and other elements of the show. While I detest anyone who lip-syncs their way though a concert, she actually seemed to be singing live. It must be a generation thing, and more power to her. Most singers today wouldn’t know how to pull it all off “live.” And on that note, I really expected Minogue to do more on stage. More by the way of swinging from the rafters and hightailing it over the audience. The overall show was tamer than I expected it to be even though I loved it just the way it was.

I think I’m so used to the Lady Gaga types and P!nk’s Grammy performance where she was spinning around and spraying the audience. I wanted more along the lines of the latter, and not getting it proved under-whelming. But honestly, where can you go on a Friday night and witness this type of spectacular? Now, I don’t want to take anything away from her because she’s outstanding. You could tell how comfortable she is on stage, which is a testament to how long she’s been in this industry. If she was even the slightest bit nervous it didn’t show at all.

While the overall show was first-rate, the music wasn’t. While I can’t knock any song for being particularly bad, the even tempo grew grating after awhile. Now I know Minogue records dance/pop music, but does every song have to have the drum machine? She didn’t make time for many, if any, quiet moments and that left the songs blending together into a sea of sameness. It was hard, particularly so because I didn’t know them ahead of time, to distinguish between them and thus she didn’t create any musical “moments” on stage I could take away from the evening. Not one song stood out as memorable by itself. It’s okay though because she more than made up for it by the performance.

The real let down of the evening was the poorly advertised opening act. It was a non-discript DJ playing dance/pop for a half hour. Why would the Agganis Arena or even Kylie Minogue’s people let such a boring act open for them? It was so bad, I didn’t even know it was the opening act and thus kept blasting the show for starting a half hour late. It felt more like pre-show entertainment, if it can even be called that, than an opening act.

But looking back over the evening, I’m really glad I went. I got to fulfill a life-long “want” to see Minogue in concert, and for all the faults, which didn’t add up to much, had a great time. She knows how to entertain and captivate an audience and helped to widen my musical comfort zone. While I’m not dying to ever see her again, i would recommend her to anyone who wants to have an experience. Because in the end, Kylie Minogue is an experience unlike most of what’s out there.

Music Review: Lori McKenna at the River Club Music Hall

March 7, 2011

Saturday night, March 5, marked Lori McKenna’s inaugural performance at the River Club Music Hall, an intimate 300 seat theatre in Scituate Massachusetts.  The perfect venue to showcase her raw sensibilities, and with its ceiling fans and stone fireplace, the River Club is ski chalet meets country roadhouse (and in the old Golden Rooster location). It’s very rare to have such an accommodating venue on the South Shore and my first visit won’t be the last. Plus, It’s an uncommon delight when someone of Lori McKenna’s stature tours near where you live. While on her website in late January, I browsed her tour dates thinking the closet would be Harvard Square or a folksy Boston club. Imagine my surprise when I found the date in Scituate, just 25 minutes from my home in Hingham. After falling in love with Lorraine, I didn’t hesitate to purchase tickets.

McKenna has a natural ease about her suited to smaller venues. When she opened for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at the TD Garden in 2007, the enormity of the experience swallowed her whole and poorly showcased her talent. That performance was marred by appalling acoustics that drowned out her vocals. I’m not exaggerating when I say you couldn’t understand a word she was singing. McKenna was loosing herself but smartly found her way back. Her concert Saturday night not only fixed all those problems, but brilliantly showcased one of the best singer/songwriters I’ve heard in quite a long time. When Hill said we were fortunate to have her as a native daughter, she wasn’t kidding.

McKenna often sings about the disillusion of marriage and frequently takes the stance of an unhappy woman. While her songs speak to human experience, the way she spoke of her husband Gene was to see a woman deeply in love with her man. The  stories from her small-town life, like when she admitted to visiting her local Roche Bros supermarket 5-6 times a week, because she can’t seem to remember that Tuesday follows Monday, brought a homegrown authenticity to her performance. She may be a recording artist, but she’s also a wife and mother living as normal a life as you or I.

That homespun wisdom threaded together the whole set. Whether she was singing newer material like “The Luxury of Knowing” and “All I Ever Do” or classics like “Your Next Lover” and “Fireflies,” the audience could feel the emotion pouring out of her. This was never truer than on the heartrending show stopper, “Still Down Here” which also closes her latest album. Backed by only a piano (the one instrument she admitted to not knowing how to play) and Mark Erelli on guitar, she stood at the microphone with clasped hands and gave the song her all, even letting her voice crack as it went up an octave. She prefaced the tune by dedicating it to everyone, making it clear that the most outstanding music really is universal.

The always dazzling “Stealing Kisses,” was the only time in the night McKenna faintly mentioned her connection to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. (Hill herself took the song to #36 in 2006). She mentioned always loving when the audience applauds at the beginning of songs, and urged everyone to do it as she launched into “Kisses.” We were all happy to oblige. It’s funny, it wasn’t until she sang this song at the TD Garden four years ago that I fully grasped its meaning. For some reason, the line “I was stealing kisses from a boy/now I’m begging affection from a man” went over my head. Now that I get that both the boy and the man are the same person, quiet desperation never sounded so good.

Another highlight came when McKenna spoke of her foray into the belly of the beast. She mentioned how she’s tricked well-known songwriters to visit Stoughton and write with her by making them believe her hometown is just like Boston. To get anyone to travel to Massachusetts to write with you is a marvel in itself. She faced an uphill battle yet won everyone over in the process, singling out songwriter Natalie Hemby, who co-wrote “White Liar” and “Only Prettier” with Miranda Lambert and the aforementioned “All I Ever Do” which appears on Lorraine.

The way McKenna spoke of her fellow songwriters including Hemby but also Andrew Dorff, brought a grounding to the evening. She unknowingly transported the audience to Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, and made everyone wish they knew Dorff personally. He came off as quite the character, a common visiter in McKenna’s world. She told the story of how he visits her local Panera Bread for a well endowed waitress, and tried to get McKenna to write a song about her entitled, “Cross in the Cleavage.” She said no but urged Dorff to write it himself and get Toby Keith to sing it. After “Get Out of My Car,” Keith will sing anything, so you don’t know how much truth is in that statement.

What I took away from the show wasn’t the authenticity or homespun wisdom, but her natural ease on stage. With her friends and family in the audience, McKenna came off Loretta Lynn-esque – a hard working country gal doing what she loves on a Saturday night. More than a gig, it was a showcase for her wit and charm. Her looseness was quite surprising. After listening to her music I expected McKenna to be serious and almost brooding, yet she was very funny; almost like a very toned down version of Wynonna and Naomi Judd in their early days. McKenna sings about being a witness to your life, yet I felt like I was a witness to a bygone era in music. Nothing about her performance felt rehearsed or forced. Even if she’s been telling the same stories on stage every night, they felt as fresh as if she’d never told them before. McKenna is a treasure and should be treated as such.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about her opening act, Matt Chase, a singer/songwriter based in Boston. While he put in a solid performance, he overstayed his welcome by four songs and let his set get overrun with sameness. Let it be a lesson, and McKenna struggles with this herself from time to time, but singing every song in the same tempo with identical mellow and ease, doesn’t help you form an identity. While he has a distinct tone to his voice, it was all too mellow to make much of an impression. He did have one memorable moment towards the end of his set, though, when he sang a song about divorce entitled “Back My Name.” A country/rocker, I could see Vince Gill recording the tune and working his magic on it.