Sunday, April 04, 2010

Male Call - A Clay Aiken PBS Concert

It was going to be a stormy ride down to North Carolina for the PBS concert last week with my wife and NY/New England friends in more ways then one. Not only was the weather going to be a factor on the drive, but my confidence for what we were going to witness wasn’t all that high either. Could it be the result of my faith in any record label was non-existent? After all Clay had recorded what I believe was the best music I had ever heard on the cd On My Way Here and got no promotion by that old label (I refuse to use their name) and no air play. I bummed out further knowing that I would probably never hear any of those songs sung live and never get to feel the excitement and energy Clay infuses in his songs and delivery when on tour.

I was more concerned Clay had hit his musical plateau. I couldn’t blame him after the past few years of struggle he’s endured with his career. He’s been subjected to a label that wouldn’t support him, negative press and little promotion of his music. I knew the guy could take a punch both metaphorically and physically but after hearing he had to have his jaw broken twice to correct a very bad situation, I could understand a desire to hang up the vocal chords. I fell into that Andy Williams, Moon River trap, and I was sure he was going to sing sappy middle of the road songs that I doubt I would like or ever want to buy. How does that make his new label Decca Records any different from the last? Ok his press had taken a sudden turn positive lately and he was finally getting the opportunity to put his music on tape, and PBS no less. But covers? No please not covers.

So on the night of the concert I didn’t have the usual excitement I feel when seeing Clay live. Sure some of the spark was still there but more worry than anything else. You could feel it in the crowd as we gathered prior to the opening of the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Things didn’t get better either. When we got to our seats, right in front of us at eye level was a huge PBS floor camera. Oh yes, the night was going downhill quickly.

Convinced by others to do something about our seats I made my way down to the usher now talking with a couple of people. Using all the charm and sex appeal this guy could muster I informed her of our plight and asked if she could do anything for us. She had a few envelopes with tickets of people able to move seats, but we weren’t listed and it ended up I would have to go to the box office and throw myself on their mercy to see if they could relocate us. As I was moving towards the door to go to the box office the usher ran up and said hold on I have seats for you and took me to a young lady with a bright orange t-shirt. She was dealing with someone else and said hold on, so I waived to my wife to come down and we began a long walk down the side aisle of the dress circle. My heart sank, she was going to seat us in one of the side sections of the dress circle, when all of a sudden we got to the first row and turned. I’m convinced she was an angel of mercy because she took us to the 3rd row where there were open seats and said in a pure angelic voice, “Sit where you want to”. Ah, excuse me but any seat and she replied “yes”. We ended up third row, dress circle, center seats. Great the best seats we had ever had for an indoor Clay concert and he was going to do standards. It was like fate was saying “you’re going to hate this and I’m going to rub it in your face”.

Then the curtain came up. The 10 piece jazz band burst into the opening number (with 2 cellos & 2 violins) Clay with his back to the audience, turned, approached the microphone and that voice that’s sweet to the ear, blew me away for the next couple of hours. A totally new sound and direction, this is the start of something good.

So what have we learned so far? Never underestimate Clay Aiken. I knew that. How did I let myself forget it? Never again!

My hats off to Decca Records, to Clay’s positive management, to those amazing arrangements, and some of the most outstanding lighting I’ve seen. The staging and song selection was unique and the jazz band behind Clay was oh so sweet. Don’t miss this PBS special when it airs this summer and do pick up Clay’s new cd Tried and True when it releases in June. These “standards” are anything but standard.

Oh and Clay sang the dreaded Moon River so simply and wistfully, it still haunts me.

Should a known!

UPDATE: For a look at Clay Aiken's new album cover, check out this blog:

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