Saturday, December 21, 2013

LeAnn Rimes concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

A version of my review originally appeared at

LeAnn Rimes took a relaxed approach to her Pacific Symphony Pops debut Thursday night at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Dressed somewhat casually, the country/pop singer urged the audience to imagine the show was in her living room and make their presence known; a shouted song request was considered, but unrealistic in this format.

She was chatty as usual on stage and it didn’t take long for her high heels to come off, either. 

In recent years, Rimes, 31, has garnered more attention for highly publicized personal exploits than professional ones. That’s a shame, because the Mississippi-born star is making some of the strongest music of her two-decade career. 

Stellar latest album Spitfire is a perfect example. Rimes co-wrote more than half the selections with such prominent tunesmiths as John Shanks, Dan Wilson, Gary Burr and David Baerwald and refers to the lyrics as “the most transparent I’ve ever been.”

Frequently boasting an attitude akin to Miranda Lambert’s, she was joined in the studio by an A-list roster of musicians: Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski of Union Station, Rob Thomas, Jeff Beck, Waddy Wachtel and Steve Jordan. 

Delving into television work this year, Rimes guest-starred on an episode of Charlie Sheen’s FX comedy Anger Management and has an upcoming VH1 reality series with actor/husband Eddie Cibrian due in early 2014. 

The family-friendly, holiday-themed program in Costa Mesa kicked off with a rapturous 50-minute suite of Christmas songs by the Pacific Symphony. Conductor Richard Kaufman immediately made sure everyone got into the holiday spirit with some humorous anecdotes and introductions. 

Following breezy arrangements by Emmy-winning Englishman David Rose (the Irish-tinged “Christmas in Killarney” was a standout), actor/ventriloquist Jay Johnson and his puppet Bob arrived to add more humor to the event. There were crowd participation and sing-along segments, too, and this older-skewing, well-heeled crowd was happy to oblige. 

Then Rimes and her four-piece band set up in front of acoustic baffles and delivered a sumptuous 65-minute set that adeptly mixed hits with a few holiday numbers and Spitfire selections. 

“How Do I Live” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” fit seamlessly with Pacific Symphony backing, since the recorded versions already swelled with subtle orchestration. The feisty “Nothin’ Better to Do” was overwhelmed by all the sound (the only real misfire), but an idyllic “Blue” was gorgeous and “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” really benefited from the heightened drama, giving the full brass section a chance to shine. 

Occasionally, the symphony eased off while Rimes and her band handled all the music. This lent a more intimate atmosphere to “All I Want for Christmas” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” both of which Rimes cut for her 2004 album of the same latter name. 

Elsewhere, the newer “Borrowed” and “What Have I Done” found the Calabasas resident candidly explaining those songs’ personal inspiration, then giving each a stunning, emotionally driven reading. Finally, a stripped-down “White Christmas,” accompanied by quiet electric guitar, capped the rainy evening on a placid note. 

LeAnn Rimes at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall 
Crazy / Nothin' Better to Do / Spitfire / Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree / Probably Wouldn't Be This Way / What Have I Done / What a Wonderful World / Can't Fight the Moonlight / How Do I Live / All I Want for Christmas / Borrowed / Blue / White Christmas

The program, also featuring ventriloquist Jay Johnson and Richard Kaufman conducting the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, continues Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa 

How much: $35-$185
Call: 714-556-2787

Photo by Kelly A. Swift, for the Register

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