I didn’t quite know what to expect with this concert. This era of music is not mine and was only partially my parents. We knew 3-4 of the songs by name and they really didn’t excite me. As I walked into the Memorial Auditorium, I just wanted it to be good. This was a very important concert for him.
I shouldn’t have worried. From the minute the curtain rose and a debonair Mr. Aiken stood there with his back to us in a pose that can only be described as C to the OOL, my head was spinning. I think I described it later as OMG overdrive. I’m not sure I took the requisite number of breaths per minute for a person sitting down.
He opened with Mack the Knife. I’m too young to remember Bobby Darin and to me this song was always something a cruise singer would do in some schmaltzy rendition in the all night lounge. How wrong I was. You couldn’t help but move your shoulders in a sort of sitting strut. The last note was so long that I think the seasons changed from spring to summer.
The band was a mix of traditional and jazz orchestra. There were about 15 musicians on stage but the wall of sound that filled that Auditorium sounded like twice that number. They were really getting into it as well, which added a level of enjoyment to the show.
Song after song from the 50s and 60s but with a twist. It was like being transported in the Way Back Machine but we’d landed in an alternate universe where they still sounded true to their era but with a side dose of 40’s big band/swing and a heaping teaspoon of the unique voice of Clay Aiken. Songs I was sure I would hate sounded like nothing I expected and that I must hear again. June 1st is just too far away. I feel like an addict on involuntary withdrawal.
And he was in his element. The man belongs on a concert stage but this was something we’d not seen in his six years with RCA. First class production. Support from the highest level of the new record label. A lighting show that was like another instrument on stage. We didn’t get to see Vince Gill or David Sanborn, who are the musical guests on this album. But when Clay explained that he wanted to do a duet with the best female voice and he introduced Linda Eder, it made the circle of support complete. They sang a duet of Crying that made it my second favorite song of the night. He hit notes that sounded like they were just invented. Her voice was as smooth as maple syrup on a cinnamon pancake.
The show had his usual moments of humor and a wonderfully nostalgic appearance by longtime friend, Ruben Studdard. I won’t spoil the special medley they sang, get yourself to one of their shows this summer.
There was a special tribute to his teachers, many of whom were in attendance. He thanked them for their work and for their impact on his life and softly began a version of the Beatles’ In My Life, accompanied by a guitar and a single cello. His voice was a bow across my heartstrings. Many people were deeply affected. Probably because the line “there is no one compares to you” meant him and meant us -because that night we were one.
But there was one song that I can’t get out of my head. One song that I figured was a good idea for the album, even though I would probably skip the track since I’ve heard him sing it dozens of times in concert. When he introduced the song and said he had sung it his whole life and was so thrilled to have his own version, I thought he meant his own professionally recorded one.
That wasn’t what he meant.
He started the familiar refrain of "Oh, my love…my darling, I’ve hungered for your touch.." But something was different. It was enough of the core melody to know the song but he was hitting different notes, minor key notes, lilting notes. When he got to the build up for the money note-that falsetto that defines whether the song owns the singer or the singer owns the song-well, I can’t put into words what happened. The voice, the band, the lighting all combined to create what I’ve heard described as an earthquake, an airplane taking off, a lightning bolt and a gunshot. We literally felt pushed back against our seats. He more than owned the song. He stole the song away from anyone who might ever try to sing it again. All of you singers with Unchained Melody in your set list? Don’t even bother anymore.
The Tried and True album is scheduled to come out on June 1st and we hope they can edit this special to be aired around the same time, so that it isn’t delayed. I can’t wait any longer than I have to in order to “see” this album again. (Update: The special will air in August.)
Tried and True was a great title when I first heard about it. It seemed to describe these songs. Good, familiar, safe. Now, I don’t think it fits. What he did with these songs was anything but familiar and safe. And it was so far beyond good, I’m going to write to Merriam Webster to ask them to create a new adjective.
Tried and True
Universal Music Group