vistadiva' date='Oct 19th 2012, 12:28 AMTRUST ME SKANKS
You HAVE to sit down and read this great review (I know it's long). Written by a music lover and semi-pro writer at MJ's (don't freak) who is actually a Cook fan....not an Adam fan. Really a great read.Adam Lambert is more fabulous than llamas at the Arizona State Fairhttp://emuisemo.com/?p=2257I soooooo want you to read it, I'm copying it here.
Handing over a 3-pack of men’s tighty-whities to get into an Adam Lambert show somehow feels wrong. If the price of admission to the State Fair is undies for our veterans, shouldn’t I be donating a silk teddy to rebuild some brave woman soldier’s self-esteem as her battle scars heal? (Hint: read Dan Savage. There are potential romantic partners who’ll be totally fine with the scars… and others who may like them a bit too much for comfort.)
Silk underthings for anybody are out of my budget right now, while the Arizona State Fair’s free-with-fair-admission-if-you’re-okay-with-meh-seats concert series is jubilantly affordable, provided I don’t break the bank through excess noshing on fried-bits-on-a-stick in the hour before the show.
Lambert puts on a lively and polished performance, much of it with a funk-infused dance beat, much of it dealing with scars and the ways we heal from them. He most often seems to play theater-type venues loosely like this one — and he works that crowd skillfully — but if you get a chance to see him at a large nightclub instead, do that thing. The ideal ambience for a Lambert show involves dancing in a little sequined dress, carrying a glow-in-the-dark drink, and if you can work in a feathered mask and a whip, that’d be perfect. (Appropriately, he’s doing a Hallowe’en guest stint on Pretty Little Liars in which he performs in essentially that setting, wearing fangs.)
Lambert’s show starts not with a bang but with a fast-burning fuse–
Do you feel it kickin’ in? What you’ve got right here — sit down and read! this is no time to be dancing — is not only a perfectly sensible question with which to start a show, but a synecdoche of what Lambert’s show is about.
You are invited to transport yourself to a different plane of consciousness. Lambert’s a “take you on a journey” artist rather than a “tell you my story” artist. Both kinds can be fun and provoking, in different ways, but it is a difference. Right here, you’re invited to get drunk on music and join Lambert’s party, and it’s implicit in the vision of the gal drinking herself silly that you may be doing it to escape some very bad things in the world (many of which will be explored in the second half of the show). At the same time, it’s a joyous-feeling song. This tension among joy, despair, and escapism is going to matter, later.
Lambert’s feel for a compelling beat is masterful. I suspect a person with three left feet could dance coherently to Kickin’ In. It doesn’t sound all four-on-the-floor, yet the beat is easy to follow.
The music is complex, and it’s talking to you. There’s a lot going on here. There’s the string riff that sounds almost like a fiddle, leading into the clapping (state fair hoedown, much?). There’s the vocal and drum build to Lambert’s entrance. There’s a tense little string riff under the early “she puts the shot glass down” in counterpoint with a cowbell-like form of percussion that creates a sense of urgency and also gives more sophisticated dancers some extra reference points to work with. There’s a rock-styled build under “can you feel it, kickin’ in?” roughly where I’d consider a bridge to be, finally breaking some of the compulsive drive of the music. If this is commentary on the compulsive search for escape, we are so there. While I sort of wish Lambert worked with more sophisticated lyricists, more in the Pet Shop Boys mode, I have to admit that he’s making the music do a lot of the social commentary that I’d ordinarily put into words.
Then Lambert takes it up a notch with Shady, which has the dirtiest and most wicked bass line ever. It’s a peculiarly divey blend of funk with Southern rock, set to a dance beat. The dance moves that strike me as appropriate for this song are illegal in Utah and Massachusetts, and are heavily taxed in Nevada. It belongs in a movie that has the suffix -sploitation somewhere in its IMDB description.
The show loosely mirrors the organization of Lambert’s 2012 album, Trespassing (buy at iTunes, buy at Amazon), in starting as upbeat dance music, then turning introspective. So Shady is followed by super-funky Trespassing, with its drum syncopation to challenge the more advanced dancers while driving home the point of how discordant those artificial no-trespassing divisions are. (Get a load of the R&B-goes-over-the-top-to-Gospel feel of the chorus to imply strongly that the line-crossing protagonist is on the side of the angels.)
It’s shortly before delightfully disco-styled If I Had You (from his debut album, For Your Entertainment) that Lambert gives the vital clue to what’s going on here. As part of his banter, he talks about how fans make friends at his show and tells people to turn to the person next to them and say “hello, friend,” specifying, “you have to say it corny like that.” He’s being camp, in a very positive sense.
You can’t camp about something you don’t take seriously. You’re not making fun of it; you’re making fun out of it. You’re expressing what’s basically serious to you in terms of fun and artifice and elegance. — Christopher Isherwood
Camp is to sexual politics as MAD magazine parodies are to movies: it’s over-the-top pastiche, there’s a good deal of poking fun, and yet somehow, at it’s best, it rings as true and becomes as memorable as the serious versions, while giving us an angle of view that wasn’t visible before. So Kickin’ In both expresses the driving urge for escape and deploys lyrics that don’t really glamorize it — and grabs the sense of joy that’s being sought. Shady picks up the sleaze and the sense of release — and the sure and affectionate knowledge that this very scene is going down in Scottsdale bars at this moment, among couples of every possible combination of desires.
Lambert incorporates the spirit of camp into the actual music, and that’s why If I Had You works for me, who ordinarily runs screaming from disco. Lambert clearly knows his musical predecessors on a level where he can pay them affectionate homage without straight-up imitating them. IIHY sounds disco-like, but it isn’t precisely disco. It’s the dance distillation of everything about the summer of 1977: disco, soft rock, hot sun, bikinis, Farrah Fawcett Majors, Donna Summer, and a mild case of heat stroke. And it’s somehow rendered musically with a tone of “I know perfectly well it’s the second decade of the 21st century — and aren’t these influences fun? Let’s have a Three’s Company theme party! We’ll serve fondue!”
The upbeat section closes with Pop That Lock, which moves into the 1980s and sounds like something Vince Clarke would have composed in his Yazoo phase (post-Depeche Mode, pre-Erasure). It sturms. It drangs. It leads into a snippet of Smooth Criminal. I’d say this is the weakest of the five up-tempo lead-in songs, partly because it’s a bit muddled in its Clarkiness and partly because it inexplicably turns into a glam-rock number with wailing guitars that then goes all Gospel on us. It goes too many places for me to be sure what its destination was supposed to be. (It also reminds me that Clarke would have swooned over Lambert’s vocals, as he did over Alison Moyet’s.)
Long pause. Pry me loose from Shady and IIHY, please. Don’t hesitate to break a finger if you have to.
The lock being popped is apparently psychological, as it’s now time for the introspective section of the show. I’m starting to suspect Lambert of having a peculiar little sense of humor, as the lyrics that seem superficial at first hearing turn out to interlock so neatly with the themes he’s trying to express here. (And that mindset, in itself, is campy: the superficial isn’t so superficial after all.)
One of the very few moments that I found awkward ensued, as the keyboard player/music director led the audience in Sly and the Family Stone’s Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself. The blinking neon Author’s Message: This Is A Safe Place, All In Fun, All About Honesty took it over-the-top for me in a blatant way, rather than a fun way. We’re doing camp: it’s a given that the raunchiness is in fun, that pretensions are both celebrated and stripped bare, and that around midnight, this kind of party tends to turn into emotional strip poker, played for high stakes.
On the other hand, Lambert’s performing for a very general audience here, and there’s no guarantee that everybody gets the subtext. And then we get this (Outlaws Of Love), which is so friggin’ gorgeous that I’m in a forgiving mood.
The use of background vocalists works for me here because it reinforces the point that this isn’t primarily a song about personal longing but about community needs for equality. These particular background vocalists also lend a haunting voices-of-the-angels feel. Outlaws of Love ends up being a strange little heart-rending lullaby, again with a Vince Clarke feel.
The “author’s message” banter gets more intense in this half of the show, though I guess it’s a good thing to point out that Chokehold is about the kind of relationship one is supposed to leave, not about S&M as good clean fun. It’s not a fun song: the music grinds and drags, so the industrial feel is less danceable than depressing. I’ve also never been crazy about Lambert’s 2009-10 hit, Whataya Want From Me, here rendered in wistful ballad mode. (But singing one’s hits is mandatory, and this is the logical place in the show to put it.)
My wish to rewind the night to the first four songs and relive them five more times was somewhat lifted by Broken English, which is roughly what would happen if vintage Information Society was violently merged with early Mariah Carey, then got a bizarre out-of-nowhere dubstep-on-guitar bridge. The ensuing chaos expresses the “tower of Babel, can’t speak the same language” motif so crazily that I kind of end up appreciating the song more than I actually like it.
I flat out, shamelessly, stupidly fell for Naked Love, which is faintly ironic, as I never much like Michael Jackson, who’s clearly one of the influences — but it’s a 2012 update of what would happen if Vince Clarke had interfered with Justin Timberlake’s 1990s updates of the Michael Jackson sound, and so very sunny. It’s completely the flip side of Shady, from being sunny and sprightly instead of sleazy and steamy, to adopting “naked” as a metaphor for honesty where before it had all really been about sex and power. (Lambert’s “fruit” banter is also fairly heavy-handed in its message. He’s generally fluent, charming, and funny, though. And his lying down on the stage to mug for the camera in the pit works with his “drama on the nightclub floor” goals.)
Thematically, Naked Love is also the triumphant turn from longing (IIHY) though introspection and misunderstanding to honesty and fulfillment. That’s a feel that continues through closing number Never Close Our Eyes (the “grasp our freedom” song) and encore Cuckoo (the “let your freak flag fly” song). Cuckoo is funk-disco with a colder feel than IIHY: the chorus drives so hard that it’ll fill the dance floor, but Lambert’s actually going “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” is one of those schticks that either starts a dance craze or fails utterly.
I’d love to see Lambert working with a label that actually gets how to promote his music effectively and consistently to dance clubs, so it builds some demand among music lovers who’ll “get” the aural references before sending it to radio (which is a harsh, cruel, and fast-changing world). I suspect I’m picking up on maybe half the subtext that a DJ who’s immersed in dance music would hear, plus the ways in which Lambert incorporates and plays off his musical inspirations has to be fun to mix into a set.
Lambert refers to wanting to invite the audience into his living room — and he gets pretty close to that, considering that he was actually playing to a crowd of around 6,000 in a vast, concrete barn. Walking out into the Phoenix summer night is like leaving some fabulous and fraught other planet, and the only reminders of what it all meant are fragments of tunes, bits of glitter, and really gorgeously plumed prize-winning chickens.
On that note, let’s wrap with Never Close Our Eyes, partly because its electric energy is one of the show’s several “holy crap!” moments and partly because it has an oddly wistful edge.