Photo courtesy RCA Records/19 Entertainment/adamofficial.com
My review originally appeared in the OC Register and can be viewed here:
Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, Calif.
In the midst of his unusual Middle Eastern-tinged take on the country classic “Ring of Fire,” Adam Lambert sang about flames going higher and higher. But Tuesday night, in his first of two performances at Pacific Amphitheatre (and the only show this season to take place while the adjacent OC Fair is closed), the proceedings seldom burned brightly.
Although last year’s unique American Idol runner-up dazzled everyone on hand with lasers, eye-popping outfits and four dancers who looked as if they stepped out of the 1985 video for Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” (the ravaged desert look was probably inspired by the Burning Man Festival, which Lambert has attended), many elements of the gig still came off erratically.
For starters, the pacing and song selection needed work. A remix of the title-track single from Lambert’s debut For Your Entertainment, used as a video introduction, seemed to go on forever and wasn’t properly performed at all. (You might recall its risqué live display last November at the American Music Awards proved controversial and the artist was subsequently dropped from several ABC television programs.)
Frontloading the set with two lesser-known numbers (“Voodoo,” “Down the Rabbit Hole”) that are bonus tracks on the album’s deluxe and international editions, then following them with the aforementioned Johnny Cash cover, also were puzzling moves. And an acoustic segment, during which the singer sat on a mini-staircase used for grand entrances, was awkward, despite his falsetto workouts and nearly operatic vocals on the ballads “Whataya Want from Me,” “Soaked” and “Aftermath.”
Plus, the early part of the 55-minute, 13-song set was rushed. Verses were excised here and there and the four-piece band (anchored by ex-Yellowcard drummer Longineau Parsons) plowed right into songs — not exactly medleys, more like the truncated, Idol-dictated approach. Adhering to a Pac Amp curfew and two preceding opening acts probably didn’t help.
Of course, none of these problems mattered to rabid fans who packed this first of two packed Costa Mesa gigs.
Prior to show time, a couple dozen enthusiasts waited anxiously across from Glambert’s tour bus for a possible sighting; inside the venue, two older women wore black feather boas draped around their necks (a nod to Lambert’s keen fashion sense). Several teenage girls were spotted with homemade “I Love Adam” T-shirts and could be heard, alongside hundreds more, shrieking their approval and waving glow sticks as the evening progressed. Quite a few male couples also were seen swaying in unison to the more romantic numbers.
Since previous appearances had bypassed Orange County, this served as Lambert’s local debut. The San Diego native actually spent time here before auditioning for Idol, briefly attending Cal State Fullerton as a music theater major until going on to rack up an impressive resumé via several Southern California and European musicals.
After making the Idol Top 12, Lambert quickly stood out as the contestant most willing to take chances and was the early favorite to win the singing competition. His flair for the dramatic likely dissuaded some voters, however, though not this one; I provided phone-ballot support toward the end of the competition.
Last year’s Entertainment album was an eclectic assortment of dance, rock and pop tunes produced and/or written by Lady Gaga, Pink, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Linda Perry, Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and others. Certified gold in America and moving a million copies worldwide, it has made a bigger impact than 2009 Idol champ Kris Allen’s first effort. The album’s title track went Top 5 on the Dance Club Play chart, while “Whataya Want from Me” reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 overall singles chart.
Onstage in O.C., the Scissor Sisters-type bounce to “Fever” — during which Lambert and his bleach-blond male bassist engaged in fast, blink-and-you-missed-it tongue action — was an early musical highlight. But a handful of lengthy instrumental intros allowing Lambert to change attire were mind-numbing (notably before “Sleepwalker” and the robotic “Sure Fire Winners,” in which Lambert and his bassist got frisky again).
Later, the intricate dance routines for “Strut” and the propulsive “If I Had You” were fun to watch. “Music Again,” a big, stomping, glam-rock number penned by Justin Hawkins (formerly of the Darkness) that starts the album and recalls Queen, would’ve been a perfect show opener — but it came off muted and less hard-hitting in this live context.
Come encore time, Lambert served up a slow, sultry, acoustic-guitar-led take on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” capped by an elevated banshee wail. It was intriguing, but a far cry from the powerful turn remembered from Idol. Leaving the venue, people were obviously disappointed about one glaring show omission: the popular, compelling remake of the Tears for Fears-via-Gary Jules tune “Mad World.” Overall, a mixed bag.
Aussie singer/guitarist Orianthi opened with another blistering set of hard rock and pop similar to her showcase last January at the NAMM convention in Anaheim. Smoking covers of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” and Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” were welcome additions. Too bad she didn’t join Lambert on “Sleepwalker,” for which she contributed a memorable solo on his album.