Monday, August 31, 2015

American Idol Live! tour concert review: Riverside, Calif.

photo by George A. Paul

On Friday night in Riverside, Calif., the "American Idol Live!" tour concluded its six week summer run. The top five finalists proved they were definitely up to the task of putting on a highly entertaining evening without cameras, song length limitations and other restrictions.

Before the doors opened at the historic Fox Performing Arts Center, some teenage fans waited in line with bright handmade signs. All age groups were represented in the crowd, but seniors and kids made up a sizable quotient. 

The two-hour, 15-minute set comprised two dozen songs that were mostly culled from the 1990s-2010s. A relaxed atmosphere gave the three guys and two gals more of an opportunity to connect with the "Idol" faithful and reveal more about themselves as artists in unscripted fashion.

One key example was this year's winner Nick Fradiani (pictured above), who revealed that he really wanted to perform "No Diggity" (the Grammy-winning  No. 1 single from 1996 by Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre.) but was constantly rebuffed by staffers. Here at the Fox PAC, it was a feverish, acoustic guitar-based workout that fit Fradiani like a glove. 

All five singers kicked things off with a high energy group take on Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" backed by a solid four-piece band.
photo courtesy Ken Phillips Group
Fittingly, Fradiani was first in the solo spotlight. Front and center playing acoustic guitar (fellow Idol Clark Beckham handled piano), his take on Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "American Girl" was just as exuberant as on the TV show's American Classics theme week. Then Fradiani mostly kept a low profile until near the end of the gig.

Beckham was voted "Idol" runner up, but he sure had a loud cheering section in Riverside. Sharply dressed, he shared the most of anyone else about his background, pointed out his father in the audience and showed how he used to keep himself amused while playing piano at weddings. Then he tore into a stunning "Georgia on My Mind," popularized by Ray Charles in 1960.

Female spitfire Jax emerged onstage with a vengeance to The Who's "My Generation" which segued into an equally raucous cover of Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My (Guy)." She went out into the audience and shook herself all around. 

Rayvon Owen gave shout outs to his sister and cousins in the crowd, talked about singing in church and how he persevered by auditioning for "Idol" seven times (!) before making the cut.
Owen got a chance to display his heavenly falsetto amid a smooth "Jealous" by Nick Jonas, with Beckham and Tyanna Jones on backing vocals. It went down a storm, as did those two guys' passionate version of Sia's "Chandelier."

photo courtesy Ken Phillips Group
After a costume change (there were many all evening) into pure white to match her hair, Jax sat at the piano and reprised Dido's "White Flag," still as breathtaking as the TV show with her sustained vocal note. 
Beckham was in fine bluesy electric guitar form for Jonny Lang's "Lie to Me," aided by Jax, Owen and Jones. 

Seated on stools, Jax and the guys segued from Rascal Flatts' somber "Bless the Broken Road" into Imagine Dragons' joyful "I Bet My Life." It was a standout. 

Returning to electric guitar, Beckham did an impressive original breezy pop/rock tune, which bodes well for his eventual debut album. Fradiani nailed Andy Grammer's "Honey, I'm Good."

Teenager Jones did well during the infectious throwback vibe of Meghan Trainor's "Lips are Movin." Owen, seated on a stool, pulled out all the vocal stops with his elastic voice (and sustained note) for the mash up of Katy Perry's "Wide Awake" (his San Francisco "Idol" audition song) and Frank Ocean's "Thinkin 'Bout You."

photo by George A. Paul
Upping the ante, Beckham (pictured left) wowed with a laid back acoustic guitar-based take on Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning" and bluesy electric "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman. 

Fradiani kept his back story chat to a minimum, but said he was thankful for "Idol" and "tried really hard for a decade to get to this stage" of his career.
Anthemic "Idol" coronation song "What a Beautiful Life" (penned by Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba) soared live and the final group number "Some Nights" found them traversing the audience and having, well, fun - just like the song's authors.

Who needs "The Voice" when you still have "American Idol" contestants this strong?

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