Monday, May 21, 2012

Eric Hutchinson/Graffiti6 concert review: Orange County, Calif.

photo by Jeff Lipsky
A version of my review originally appeared at

The Coach House spent some rare time in the spotlight on Friday night.
While hosting two acts that are currently making waves at Adult rock radio (Eric Hutchinson, Graffiti6), the packed San Juan Capistrano venue also became the subject of an impromptu song.
A quarter ways into the thoroughly entertaining 80-minute, 19-song set, Hutchinson (pictured above) used acoustic guitar to ad-lib hilarious lyrics about the food, seating angles, signed wall photos and cracked himself up in the process. The Washington D.C. native definitely has sharp improv skills.
Nearly five years have past since his solid debut CD Sounds Like This came out, moved 250,000 copies and spawned three hit Triple AAA format singles (including the gold-certified “Rock & Roll”) whose cumulative sales total are over a million.
Excellent new album Moving Up, Living Down finds the singer/songwriter continuing to mine classic 1970s pop/rock sensibilities with intriguing rhythm dynamics (Latin instruments, loops) and R&B touches thrown in for good measure.
Backed by a tight, happy three-man band (plus two horn players on various tunes), Hutchinson opened the show on keyboards with the jaunty, optimistic “Best Days.” He switched to electric guitar for the funky “You Don’t Have to Believe Me,” where the energetic vintage Prince vibe was bolstered by a snatch of Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.”
Barely pausing for a break, the reggae-tinged “Outside Villanova” saw a second keyboardist/guitarist follow Hutchinson’s scatting note for note. The vocalist said that good time shuffle “Not There Yet” was about “blowing off work” and followed it with an equally fun audience sing along cover of The Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
Moving ballad “Break Down More” dates back to Hutchinson’s early career and was revamped for the new album. Here, it took on a haunting quality with lap steel guitar work that almost silenced fans. Several of them danced amid the tables and aisles when upbeat piano pop hit “Oh!” arrived next and continued through a strong take on Sublime’s “Santeria” (not surprisingly, it went down a storm).
Elsewhere, the drummer displayed some fine percussive changeups on “Watching You Watch Him” and Hutchinson turned in vulnerable vocal. “OK, It’s Alright with Me” prompted boisterous audience participation.  
By the encores, the whole place was standing for “Rock & Roll” and a frenetic “The Basement,” where Hutchinson and company were in old school rock ‘n’ soul revue mode. His rapid-fire vocal delivery, name checking (Little Stevie Wonder, Ike & Tina Turner) and “Land of 1000 Dances” snippet made for an exhilarating finish.
Back in January, England’s Graffiti6 put out its first Stateside album, Colours. The mix of 1960s psychedelia, pop and U.K. Northern Soul elements and Jamie Scott’s truly soulful falsetto vocals equals one of the year’s more absorbing debuts so far. Standout track “Stop Mary” would totally appeal to Bruno Mars enthusiasts.    
The duo comes with quite a resume: Scott previously toured with Alicia Keys and Kelly Clarkson, collaborated with members of Travis, penned songs for Enrique Iglesias and One Direction and had a small acting role in the Channing Tatum flick “Step Up.” His musical partner Tommy D. Danvers is a respected producer/arranger/writer, whose credits include Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” Janet Jackson, Bjork, Beyonce, Kylie Minogue, Kanye West and Jay-Z.
Out in Capistrano, Graffiti6 managed to rise above an inattentive, too-chatty crowd filled with many young ladies obviously there solely for Hutchinson. 
Scott (pictured left) performed on acoustic guitar, accompanied by a bassist and organist. The hunky singer was dressed casually in a t-shirt and jeans (a far cry from his stylish look in the music video to hit “Free”).
Stripped-down arrangements during the half hour set gave Scott’s amazing pipes ample opportunity to shine (“Lay Me Down”; the moody boyfriend-kills-girlfriend tale “Goodbye Geoffrey Drake”). Others packed an emotional punch (the plaintive, Fender Rhoads-driven “Over You”; a cover of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody”).
Although sweeping orchestration from the Motown-ish “Free” was missing, Scott still provided plenty of drama. I look forward to seeing what he’s like in front of a full-fledged electric band.    

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