Monday, March 15, 2010

There Are Places I Remember

I’m back off the road again after a four day journey to see Clay Aiken’s special concert that was filmed for PBS. I will spare you the crazy adventures of three New Englanders and one New Yawker through parts of Virginia on the way down to Raleigh.

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.

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Shadylil said...

Great blog, Corabeth. I only wish that I could have been there but it was not to be. June can't come soon enough.

dv said...

I have sen Clay in concert about 10 times through the last 7 years....This concert was by far the best I have ever heard Clay sing, his VOICE was unreal !!! The music was superb, the lighting was wonderful and Unchained Melody was out of this world !!! Great blog ! Thanks,

stpteach said...

June, June, June....we need it to be June! Thanks again, Corabeth, for giving me words to help bring the experience to life for me.

Karma said...

Nailed it, CB. Kudos!

I must take one exception, however. I didn't get "pushed back" at the climax of UM. Instead, with my hands clasped over my heart, I distinctly remember that I leaned in. Forward. I think I subconsciously wanted to be enveloped by that extraordinary wave of sound; become one with it. And sappy as it sounds, I think that's exactly what happened.

I'm so damn happy for him and for us. Ya know? What a night.

Dolly said...

We've been waiting for this for a long time...Congratulations, Clay!

SueReu said...

You got it exactly right and I agree about needing new adjectives because I think I've used them all ;)

Thanks for the great blog!

MAE said...

I've read all the recaps I could find about the concert. I so wish I could have been there!! Thanks to all of you, I feel such an excitement and an anticipation for the PBS special and CD! I wanted it to be great for Clay and all of us who love him and now know through you, that it was even better than can be discribed!! I've even tried to envision how is Mother and family must have felt and how awesome it must have been for them! Thanks for this great information!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this lovely blog. I've been asked to review Clay's concert by Ticketmaster .... wish I could just use your blog as my review :)

You've certainly re-created the evening .... esp for those of us who were there.

IamMesmerized said...

Wonderful blog Cora! It was a magical nite and you've captured it well.

Anonymous said...

I could not have said this better. He was magnificant.


Dee said...

Wow!! Your blog took my breath away. Your description of Clay's voice left me hanging and waiting to see this concert. Two and a half years without seeing Clay live is way too long!
Will there be a DVD of the concert?

Carolina Clay said...


Thank you for a wonderful recap of Clay Aiken's PBS concert taping last weekend. I wish I could have been there, and your replay almost put me in Memorial Auditorium.

Looking forward to the telecast and the Tried & True album!


Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to attend the concert with my husband. From the momement Clay started to sing until he left the stage, all I could say was "OMG." This is how I always imagined he would sound live. Spectacular.

When sharing this wonderful experience with family and friends, I could sense their excitement at the thought of getting to hear for themselves what I experienced first hand. Oh my, June can't get here soon enough!