Monday, July 25, 2016

Concert review: Phillip Phillips, Matt Nathanson, A Great Big World in Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo: Kelly Swift
Phillip Phillips was totally charged up the minute he arrived onstage – arms raised high – in Costa Mesa. That energy level rarely diminished during an often intense hour-long set that split the difference between his two albums.

Among the more successful “American Idol” winners, the Georgia singer/guitarist made his first appearance at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Friday night. Casually surveying the crowd’s wide demographic (small children to elderly), it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume many people were drawn by the television show instead of just sauntering in from the OC Fair.

Opening with an edgier than usual “Man on the Moon,” Phillips gave a quick nod to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give it Away” and his exceptional five-piece band pulled out all the stops. An effusive “Raging Fire” soared, particularly from Joel Behrman’s sharp horn blasts.

Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” provided guitarist Nate Mercereau an opportunity to take a solo spotlight (more would come). Phillips previewed his third studio release, due later this year, with two promising tunes. “Don’t Tell Me” boasted a slinky groove, while the soulful sensuality of “Magnetic” saw the singer’s upper register get a good workout.

“This is about loving someone so much it hurts,” explained Phillips, before the spirited “Gone Gone Gone.” A haunting “Thicket” was driven by his rapid acoustic guitar picking; Behrman added some Dixieland flair and the guys went into jam mode.

Still having a blast, they gave the stirring five-million selling hit single “Home” a fresh New Orleans-styled sheen and finished with a wicked “Fly.”

photo: Kelly Swift
Matt Nathanson has toured and recorded since the mid-1990s, tallying nine Top 40 radio singles on Billboard’s Adult Pop chart (and country crossover duet “Run” with Sugarland). 2015’s impressive “Show Me Your Fangs” featured the should’ve-been-mega-hit “Gold in the Summertime,” where he sings about listening to “Prince on the radio.”

In O.C., Nathanson opened with said jubilant tune. Later, the folk/rocker talked about being blown away after seeing Prince live a month before his passing and then paid tribute to The Purple One with a fun and feisty cover of “Raspberry Beret.”

Humor played in big role during Nathanson’s 60-minute set. He easily won over the audience with directed singalongs and keen observances about them – from a kid wearing a poop emoji hat and an older man vigorously chewing gum to a concertgoer holding up a rubber chicken.

“This is about falling in love with someone across the checkout aisle” is how Nathanson described whimsical “Kinks Shirt.” Due to younger ears around, he gave the passionate “Run” a PG-type intro and turned his head while singing sexual lyrics on an upbeat cover of James’ “Laid.” On the inspiring “Giants,” Nathanson reminded people they were capable of “love, empathy and listening.” Following some Whitesnake and Journey snippets, the band’s stripped-down “Suspended” (off 2003’s “Beneath These Fireworks”) came across well.

Accompanied by just keyboards, Nathanson recalled Bono on stark, heartfelt ballad “Bill Murray,” which was inspired by a dream of hanging out with the actor. Then the poppy “Headphones” included a foray into the terrace section. Finally, the yearning hit “Come On, Get Higher” found the performer swinging his hips to the music, doing an amazing sustained falsetto and segueing into “You’re the One That I Want” from “Grease,” complete with audience participation.

photo: Kelly Swift
First up this evening was A Great Big World, whose 25-minute set for early arrivals was solid from start to finish. The young Grammy-winning pop duo from New York City packed plenty of harmonies into the peppy “Kaleidoscope” and infectious, life affirming “I Really Want It.” Ian Axel pounded electric piano like a young Elton John throughout.

His co-lead vocalist Chad King was simply riveting on an emotional “Won’t Stop Running,” the lyrics stemming from a doctor incorrectly predicting totally paralysis from Multiple Sclerosis nine years ago. Axel excelled with his own dose of drama on big hit “Say Something,” performed alone.

The band’s enthusiastic cover of The Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” featured King on trumpet and got a loud response. Affecting top 20 adult pop hit “Hold Each Other” concluded the set as each singer adeptly handled Futuristic’s original rap and sang about their respective female and male partners.

Can’t wait to see them live again.

My review originally appeared at

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