By Amrutha Sivakumar, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 1, 2014
It wasn’t my first rodeo, but boy was I excited — this was Kris Allen after all. The last time I saw in concert was at The Ark last year and every moment was perfect. Allen’s crisp, resounding vocals; his charm for improvisation; the band’s parallel harmonies … and I wanted nothing more than to feel it all again.
So yes, I’m biased. But I was determined to look at Allen’s show at The Blind Pig from an objective standpoint. What is it about so many Idol winners that make them one-hit wonders? I wanted to know how it was possible that Allen — one of the most talented male vocalists I had ever seen live in concert — could now be without the backing of a major label backing his artistry and playing an Ann Arbor show that didn’t even come close to selling out.
It’s been a tough year for Allen, no doubt. After being dropped by RCA Records shortly after releasing his sophomore album, Thank You Camellia, Allen took on the role of an entrepreneur. Horizons was released through Allen’s independently managed DogBear Records in mid-August and, much like the rest of his work, it was another example of his consistent trademark sound.
Yet, it was different. A head-on car accident last year left him with a broken wrist and several months of rehabilitation, forcing him to relearn how to play guitar in a style more heavily focused on finger plucking. Horizons paints a more nuanced picture, with songs that are softer and a little less focused on the powerful chords that drove many of Allen’s earlier works.
While the focus of Allen’s show did seem to be more on his newly released album, it was clear that he couldn’t hold up the audience with those songs alone. The tracks are sweet, soft and meaningful in their lyrics, but aren’t melodically memorable enough to stick with an audience only two weeks after their release. On top of that, none of the songs have the keen-edged refrains that excite the average millennial audience.
Of course, Allen couldn’t go without substituting some of his slower Horizon tracks with some fan favorites. As he belted out “Live Like We’re Dying” — Allen’s first release on the onset of winning “Idol” — very few of his fans restrained themselves from singing along. More upbeat tracks like “Monsters,” from Thank You Camilla, were interspersed with his newer singles.
There’s no doubt why Allen won American Idol back in 2009. With transcendent live vocals and a disarming charisma. Allen is truly what Simon Cowell called the “X Factor” back in the day. But there was something different about Allen this time around. Had it not been for the bracing cohesiveness of Allen’s accompanying band, I’m not sure it would have been half as entertaining of a show.
The guitar and saxophone riffs — many of which are absent from Allen’s studio recordings — were some of the definite highlights, bringing out an edge in Allen’s more mellow tracks. The band was refreshing and had the sort of technical precision not found in many pop bands today. And not for a moment did Allen draw the attention away from his band, showcasing each member’s fortes throughout the show.
So ask me again why Allen’s not headlining stadium shows? All I know is that if live music always sounded like this, the music industry might just stand a chance.