Sharing thoughts about Taylor Hicks and concert travels and other musical musings!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Traveling Circus Feels the Heat in Atlanta

Back in 2006 I made myself a promise that if Taylor Hicks ever made a return stop in Atlanta and was going to be at Smith’s Olde Bar with his guitar and buddies, I was going to be there too! And now, three years later, I was finally able to make good on that promise when Taylor brought his “Grease” Shadow Tour to Atlanta and Smith’s Olde Bar.

For the Smith repeat, Taylor Hicks brought with him John Kulinich (guitar), Jason Parker (bass) and Brian Less (keyboard). Taylor, of course, would be on the guitar, harmonica, tambourine and shaker. While Taylor can almost be a one-man band himself, the other musicians’ added beautiful accompaniment and energy to the fully-Taylor Hicks charged show – acoustic style – just the way Taylor is meant to be enjoyed!

For a late Sunday night show, Smith’s was about half-filled depending on how spread out the audience was. The crowd make up was more women than men (but there were lots of men), and the age group varied from barely 21 to late sixties or older. Several members of the “Grease” cast came after the final Atlanta performance, including Dominic Fortuna who plays Vince Fontaine. Of course, Taylor wasn’t going to start the concert until after “Grease” closed and he had met fans in the lobby after the show, so the concert wouldn’t start until 10:30 or so anyway.

Wearing gorgeous boots, jeans and black short sleeve shirt, Taylor Hicks greeted the cheering and screaming audience with “Atlanta, GA…How are we doin’ on a Sunday night!” With 3 guitars and a keyboard, the show opened with the title song from Taylor’s second album, “The Distance”. There’s just something about that song played acoustically that is chilling and mesmerizing at the same time. To me, this is the best way to perform this song.

After thanking us for coming and letting us know that we were in for a lot of music, including special guests, Taylor sang “I Live on a Battlefield”. The guitars are very strong and at one point I was expecting to see smoke because of the all the rapid strumming that both John and Taylor was doing! Taylor seems to be much more comfortable playing the guitar in acoustic settings – it still amazes me that he doesn’t use a pick!

I Live on a Battlefield - Smith's Olde Bar - RagsQueen

“Written by an old buddy…tongue-in-cheek song about going to somebody’s wedding and running away with the bride”, Taylor Hicks sang “Wedding Day Blues”. Such a fun and lively song, and perfect for some melody variations and harmonica! A sly look at the part about “throwing the groom out of the limo”; a great way to get to ladies to raise the scream level up a notch or two! Even Taylor said it ‘was fun’!

Wedding Day Blues - Smith's Olde Bar - RagsQueen

A pre-Idol song written by Taylor, “The Deal”, is beautiful when played with just the guitars and keyboards. Made me feel like I was back in the days when Taylor played the local bars in Birmingham as well as Smith’s Olde Bar in the early days. The guitars gave a certain twang that adds to the enjoyment of the song, particularly when performed live. Taylor even chided about deal makers and deal breakers at the end, adding a sense of fun to the performance.

The first single off “The Distance”, “What’s Right is Right” was next. Taylor asked to have the volume of the keyboard turned up. Hearing the song as recorded on the album or the video or played with a full band doesn’t really give Taylor’s voice the listening to that it deserves. Played acoustically though, Taylor’s voice is front and center. Beautiful song, and even more beautiful when played this way.

What's Right is Right - Smith's Olde Bar - RagsQueen

Paul McCartney was in Atlanta for a big concert in Piedmont Park, and on Friday night, Taylor Hicks said he ran into “Sir Paul” during the sound check. In honor of that meeting, he threw in “Don’t Let Me Down”. A great song for an acoustic set and Taylor’s voice is perfect for the song. I swear the guitars even sounded like a Mariachi band was in the room. Don’t know if it was John or Taylor that was giving off that sound, but it was a great addition to the song.

From his self-titled album, recorded with a full drum corps led by Taylor Hicks himself, “The Runaround” is a song generally played with a full band, and sometimes even a marching band. Before starting the song, Taylor told a story about Brian Less having to play the bass sounds on his keyboard when the bass player didn’t show up. Brian would respond he could and asked if he was going to be paid twice! The audience loved the story and Brian was grinning ear to ear! The musical intro featured Brian on the keyboards for the acoustic performance of “The Runaround”, and nothing was missing from the song! Actually, the vocals ‘popped’ in this version! Taylor and Brian, together, it just doesn’t get much better than this! Taylor brought the house down with his ending chat…“has anyone ever gotten the runaround? It sucks! That’s why we write the music!”

The Runaround - Smith's Olde Bar - RagsQueen

Taylor Hicks has often said that when he heard “Nineteen” for the first time he had tears in his eyes and that it really touched him. Taylor announced that the song is to be released to the Armed Forces Radio around Veterans Day. A beautiful song, made even more beautiful with less instrumentation, was dedicated to our troops.

Nineteen - Smith's Olde Bar - RagsQueen

If you dream…if you visualize it…it will come true” were Taylor’s opening remarks for “Gonna Move”, a song that Taylor has performed for years, and seems more like his personal mantra because he’s always on the move. No regular address, hotels rooms are his home, and he’s said in interviews that his mail goes to his parents’ home. Before ending the song, Taylor tagged about ‘calling the bar owner about 10 times a week to let him open’.

He continued to talk about calling the bar owner to beg to let him open for someone and finally ending with he was closing the bar tonight! “Cheers, everyone!” Taylor talked about being on one long continuous journey and then about giving him two months with a real estate agent and he’d be ready to get back on the road. I think he may have been tuning his guitar as he continued to talk about the current shadow tour where he could strip down the music and trying it out with less production. And he thanked the “Grease” cast for coming and about them teaching him how to act.

A song that many fans have hoped would be the next single, and one that Taylor himself has said could be the song that establishes his writing skills, “Maybe You Should”, we were told was on hold by a ‘big country singer’. And no, Taylor did not reveal who it might be, although the gender is female. While Taylor was chatty and talkative, he didn’t have loose lips!

“Maybe You Should” is perfect for just a keyboard and a couple of guitars. Actually, the live version is even better than the recorded version, if you can imagine that! Everyone needs to hear that song live at least once so enjoy the attached video to get a flavor of a live performance!

Maybe You Should - Smith's Olde Bar - RagsQueen

A bit of Spanish flair and written with Simon Clime during a visit to Southern France, “Once Upon a Lover of Mine” is a great Latin-calypso style song, perfect for acoustic performances. The opening featured Brian on the keys. Taylor picked up the shaker while John and Jason backed up the vocals with guitars. Even a few ‘trrrrs’ with senorita got the audience into a frenzy of squeals! The higher pitched notes were hit with perfection! I didn’t realize the vocal range that Taylor had to sing with this song, even though I’ve heard it a number of times! WOW, Taylor really does have a wide vocal range!

As the original set was ending, Taylor quipped, “what to do next” and to shouts of love and adoration, responded with a high-pitched, “I love you too!” Also thanked us all for coming and for the support and to let us know that an encore would take place with a few more friends joining him on stage.

The final song, written by George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord” had been the encore song for concerts earlier in the year. Now it seems to be the last song in the main set. As he put it, the song had migrated from George Harrison to Billy Preston to Taylor Hicks. I always enjoyed the original George Harrison version but Taylor’s is more irreverent and fast, perfect for clapping and patting the foot to the beat as well as a bit of chair dancing (at least for me, anyway!)

After a brief intermission, the stage was reset to add Wynn Christian and Quinn Boyland of Spoonful James (who by the way had played earlier in the evening). The first song, Eric Clapton’s “Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad”, obviously a standard for Spoonful James, featured Taylor Hicks on the tambourine. John was featured on the guitar! And Wynn was singing harmony with Taylor. Quite a nice performance of just vocals, guitars and keyboard – I love acoustic Taylor Hicks! (Sadly, my video was in the air with a great view but dingy me forgot to turn it on, so no video. Mea culpa!)

Written by Wynn Christian, “Seven Mile Breakdown” ended the show. Taylor left the guitar playing to everyone else while he picked up the tambourine. I miss that little hiccup when the words ‘might make you loose your mind’ but even without it, it’s a great song, and one I’m sure that having Taylor put on “The Distance” has surely made Wynn very proud!

Seven Mile Breakdown - Smith's Olde Bar - RagsQueen

And so the curtains were closed and what few light were in the bar came up as the crowd began to thin. Some of us sat for a bit to wait for the bar to clear and chat with friends and compare notes. But since I had to fly home and go to work later in the morning (it was after midnight after all), I had to get back to the hotel to get some sleep, as if sleep was possible after a Taylor Hicks concert!

Enjoy the pictures and video! Smith’s Olde Bar with Taylor and friends was a wonderful experience, one I hope you get sometime, and in the meantime, you can enjoy the videos posted!

Pictures from Smith's Olde Bar

ETA: Videos are also on YouTube for those who can't view the Vimeo ones!

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Some of My Favorite Pictures