I am telling you I’m not Robin Thicke: Jennifer Hudson
at the Palace.
Hudson, Robin Thicke
Theatre, March 31
the hell did Jennifer Hudson not win American Idol?
I’ve only seen the show once or twice, but I caught one of
those American Idols Live! tours a few years ago and no one
in that show—admittedly from a different competition year—came
within a mile of Hudson’s talent, or voice.
the first note of “One Night Only” that Hudson sang on the
Palace stage, she tore the roof off the theater. And she never
showed the slightest hint of being tired; she never sounded
as if she were straining. She started and stopped notes on
a dime, talked to the adoring audience in her sassy but offhand
style and then went back into whatever she was singing without
missing a beat—or a breath.
an amazing performance.
so relaxed that when she went into her showstopping number
from Dreamgirls, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,”
it almost seemed that she wasn’t even using 100 percent of
her energy. (That’s not a compliment or a zinger, just a neutral
observation.) Hudson’s so convincing that she even made something
as corny as Mac Davis’ “I Believe in Music” sound totally
complaint: Too often, Hudson tried to turn the show into a
sing-along. I don’t want to hear the customers around me sing.
Not when Jennifer Hudson is on stage.
superstar Robin Thicke went on first, and received almost
as loud a reception as Hudson did. If the sound of it was
slightly different, that’s because the crowd’s roar was accented
by the extra-saucy screams of the ladies.
of TV personality Alan has one great vocal weapon—a pliant
falsetto that’s set for sexy. Thicke could (and did) elicit
squeals of delight with every stage pose, but it was that
soulful high voice that really made the women let loose.
ranged from the excellent to the, well, somewhat less-than-excellent.
“The Sweetest Thing,” crooned by Thicke at the piano (the
dude can play, too), was terrific. “Dreamworld,” Thicke’s
self-penned ode to his perfect universe, was a dud. (I’d like
for the polar ice caps to stop melting and Marvin Gaye to
be alive, too, but one idea doesn’t have much resonance in
the company of the other.)
apologized for the slight rasp in his voice, blaming a cold,
but no one seemed to mind; the woman sitting next to me shouted,
“It’s all right baby, you’re doing fine.”
band was the house band, so to speak, for the entire evening.
There was a three-piece horn section, drummer, keyboardist,
bass, guitar and two singers. They were great, and certainly
earned their pay on this mostly-glitch-free first show on
the Hudson-Thicke tour.
Flatlanders, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock
have a nearly 40-year history. However, their longevity is
marked by long periods of inactivity as the three members
pursued their own separate careers. They formed in 1970, and
their infamous 1972 debut was released only on 8-track tape.
Reissued 18 years later on CD, it was aptly appended with
the title More a Legend Than a Band. Near the end of
the ’90s they returned to the studio to record a song for
the soundtrack of The Horse Whisperer, and since then
have been relatively prolific with two studio albums and then
a live disc, and now the just-released Hills and Valleys.
in support of their new album, the Flatlanders came to the
Egg Saturday night and found the Swyer Theatre filled with
fans welcoming songs both familiar and new with equal enthusiasm.
The three guitar-playing singer-songwriters were backed by
a trio of guitar, bass and drums. Ballads had breadth and
texture, and uptempo numbers kicked up dust with controlled
fury. Since friendship first brought them together in Lubbock,
Texas, it’s that very element which gave a relaxed character
to the night. While a show by any of them on their own which
would have its own dramatic arc to it, the Flatlanders’ set
was infused with casual camaraderie as songs moved from one
man to another. While that’s not a recipe for intensity, it’s
also not what they’re after. These are three potent songwriters,
now in their 60s, sure of their own voices and seemingly content
with their place in the world. The Flatlanders evolved from
three separate songwriters to a collaborative writing triumvirate—more
than half of the new album’s selections are credited jointly
to the three of them. The night’s only song not by any of
them was the exuberant “The Way We Are,” written by Gilmore’s
Joe Pug has a big, inviting sound. Both his guitar and voice
are compelling instruments, with his songs displaying a contrasting
mix of both reaching outside of, and staying within his comfort
zone. Exuding confidence, he’s a young musician at the start
of his career, seemingly in it for the long haul, offering
memorable songs and the promise of what lies ahead.
had to say it. As soon as Ray LaMontagne stepped on stage,
the women in the sold out Swyer Theater let their presence
be known. Much has been made of LaMontagne’s reluctance to
engage in between-song banter, but amid declarations of love,
cries of encouragement, and not-so-subtle catcalls, he wouldn’t
have been able to get a word in edgewise. LaMontagne is not
your run-of-the-mill heartthrob. Bearded and swaddled in flannel
(he actually doubled up for his recent SNL performance),
he’s got a wholesome, L.L. Bean-catalog charm that even dudes
don’t mind nestling into. That’s why one of the largest rounds
of applause came Monday night after one particular “I love
you, Ray” was issued from an uncommonly low voice in the crowd.
sex appeal, LaMontagne spans another stylistic dichotomy.
An acoustic singer-songwriter in the manner of Sam Beam (Iron
and Wine), he’s built his reputation on almost Jamie Lidell-style
blue-eyed soul. His is the kind of voice that demands a legendary
backstory, so LaMontagne’s decision to begin making music
after hearing Stephen Stills is worth noting, but it might
be Van Morrison that his sound resembles closest. This was
certainly the case during the opener “You’re the Best Thing,”
the single from his latest, Gossip in the Grain. The
song’s built to carry a horn section and back-up singers,
but the three-piece backing band with whom LaMontagne tours
still were able to conjure that R&B luster.
most part, though, an unlikely influence seemed to dominate
the show. In his longest monologue of the night, LaMontagne
mocked his producers’ requests to “push the soul,” and confessed
he loves Hank Williams too. Filled with hovering pedal steel
and steady-as-a-freight-train drum parts, the show (which
drew largely from his latest album) seemed to come from south
of the Mason-Dixon as much as from his native Maine.
though, is tangential to the real reason why the show was
sold out: LaMontagne’s voice. Whether on the yearning “Let
It Be Me,” bluesy “You Can Bring Me Flowers,” or stomping
“Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s a Shame),” LaMontagne’s lyricism
is secondary to a voice that begins and ends with gutsy breath.
It’s a hypnotic quality, though, that might eventually allow
LaMontagne to get away with lyrical murder. His tune “Meg
White” (“I think you’re alright/In fact you’re pretty swell”)
about the White Stripes drummer was a humorous betrayal of
the unflagging earnestness he had, until then, run on. Whatever
it meant, though, it was flawless.
too, can be said of openers the Low Anthem, whose set was
as polished as their latest album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
(which deserves a tip of the hat for its title alone). A mini
chamber ensemble masquerading as an Americana trio, the band
traded countless instruments on tune after placid tune. For
them, clarinets, pump organs and alto horns are no gimmick,
just the makings of gorgeous music.