Friday, October 28, 2011

David Cook/Gavin DeGraw concert review: Pomona, CA

A version of my review originally appeared at:

Although David Cook was the first rocker to win the seventh season of “American Idol” in 2008, few people realize how aggressive the Missouri-raised singer/guitarist’s music actually can be until they see him live.
That power was clearly evident during a rousing 70-minute set on Wednesday at Fox Theater in Pomona. Gavin DeGraw was the de facto headliner, but Cook stole the show. 
Following the “Idol” win, Cook’s self-titled, major label bow sold more than a million copies, as did two singles. A few others went top 20 at various radio formats (though not alternative or active rock – two genres he hews closest to). Solid sophomore release “This Loud Morning,” produced by Matt Serletic (Matchbox Twenty, Santana), ups the grungy pop quotient with lyrics revolving around a life/sleep cycle. 
Those who followed Cook’s personal journey on “Idol” will be interested in the recent news about his participation in the Honda LA Marathon next March, to raise funds for Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2). The charity hits close to home for the performer, since his brother Adam died from a brain tumor. For more info, go to 
At the Fox, Cook opened with the hard-driving “Circadian,” the first of eight selections from “Morning.” Gritty vocals and a Foo Fighters-style sonic assault (there were three electric guitarists, counting the front man) made “Kiss on the Neck” an early standout. Surprisingly, it included a few lines of The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” 
Plenty of older women and their husbands were in attendance at the less-than-filled venue. “Heroes” was bolstered by throttling guitars, drummer/backing vocalist Kyle Peek’s thrashing rhythms and it segued into Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova.”
Later, the uplifting sentiment of “We Believe” found the lead singer in total wail mode, while “Come Back to Me” was full-on drama. After announcing “this is one of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite bands,” Cook and the group launched into a faithful, yet forceful take on Muse’s “Stockholm Syndrome.”
Piano/acoustic guitar-led ballad “Goodbye to the Girl” was a nice breather from the onslaught. More chunky guitars led the way on “Bar-ba-sol” and a psychedelic-tinged “Light On,” where they were joined by Peek’s pre-school aged son on guitar. Finally, Cook ended with the solo acoustic ballad “Fade Into Me.” There was a minor exodus of concertgoers once Cook finished. 
Singer/songwriter/pianist Gavin DeGraw is best known for his first CD, 2003’s platinum-certified “Chariot.” It spawned the hits in the title track, “Follow Through” and “I Don’t Want to Be” (the theme song to TV drama “One Tree Hill”). His self-titled second album went gold. 
This past summer, DeGraw made national news after getting assaulted outside a music club he co-owns in Manhattan’s East Village and hit by a taxi. He suffered minor injuries and had to cancel tour dates with Maroon 5, but reportedly made a quick recovery.
Fourth album “Sweeter” finds DeGraw collaborating with outside songwriters like Ryan Tedder for the first time and emphasizing more sensuality in his trademark blue-eyed soul music. The single “Not Over You” recently went top 20 at Hot AC radio.
Starting with the techno-lite of “Candy,” DeGraw did most of the new album, which comprised half the 70-minute set. It took several songs for him to really get into a comfortable groove. “Chariot” was dispatched early, prompting loud howls from fans. At various times, DeGraw started off playing a black grand piano, then stood up to sing at the microphone, returned to the instrument or visa versa.
Smooth electronic drums/keyboards paved the way into a snatch of The Script’s “Breakeven” and Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” before DeGraw’s own compelling “Follow Through.” Previously content to let the music do the talking, he suddenly did a long introduction about the genesis of writing “Spell it Out.” Played alone on piano, the moment was stirring. Getting a late dose of energy, DeGraw worked both sides of the stage on “Run Every Time” and a joyous “I Don’t Want to Be,” sung with authority. 
Carolina Liar delivered a satisfying half hour of pop/rock music to early arrivals. Led by vocalist/guitarist and South Carolina native Chad Wolf, the LA-based band is rounded out by three Swedish musicians. Scandinavian hit master Max Martin (P!nk, Katy Perry) helmed their 2008 major label bow “Coming to Terms,” which featured the alt-rock hits “I’m Not Over” and “Show Me What I’m Looking For” (the latter sold in excess of 600,000 downloads). New album “Wild Blessed Freedom,” came out last month and found the group re-teaming with Martin and his equally successful protégé, Shellback (Maroon 5, Usher).
Wolf, who looked like Kid Rock’s younger brother, was relentless at prompting crowd participation in Pomona. Highlights included the ‘80s synth-pop vibe of “Last Night,” the chiming “Drown,” the dynamic buildup of “Show Me” and piano ballad “Beautiful People.”

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