Singer-songwriter-performer extraordinaire Adam Lambert loves to connect with his audience while performing. Voicing this claim in many an interview, he confirms it with vocal acuity and visual charisma on stages of stadium, studio and theatre around the globe. Having just stepped off a recent promo tour in Australia, parts of Asia and Europe, Adam’s cyclonic agenda swept him here to Vancouver, gifting us his first Canadian solo concerts. Playing a deuce of casinos, Lambert, along with his intrepid band, graced the stages at Coquitlam’s Red Robinson Show Theatre on April 8 and Richmond’s River Rock Show Theatre on April 9. Both shows sold out within minutes of ticket release, with the Coquitlam show being added due to high demand.
It’s been nearly two weeks since Glamstock soared out of Vancouver on glittery wings, and if any perspective has been gained in this time, it’s of why groupies make unlikely journalists. Partying at all hours like a rock star wannabe is divine in the moment, but the resultant beating to body, brain and senses requires the soothing balm of time – and sleep – to regain a modicum of normal functionality. Thoughtful reflection was also required to describe the rock’n’roll extravaganza which provided the city with a bit of brightening up since the frenzied excitement of the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics has drained away. In the aftermath, it is clear that the synaptic overload of genuine musical talent brought about a spirited feeling of connectivity and joy.
Red Robinson Show Theatre Thursday April 8, 2010
Canada’s “Father of Rock and Roll radio” Red Robinson warmly welcomed the gathering fans to his theatre, praising Adam’s talents and acknowledging the rocker’s exceptional ability to bring the party to his Coquitlam stage.
Vancouver-based alternative-rock band Elias warmed things up, rocking out to a 30-minute opening set from a well-balanced arsenal of moody and eclectically-driven melodies and catchy rhythms. They were a surprising, but pleasing addition to the show and their sound meshed with the amplified party atmosphere.
Then Lambert’s band strode forth to claim the stage: steadfast Music Director and legendary guitarist Monte Pittman; lively bassist Tommy Joe Ratliff; rhythm ringmaster Longineu Parsons on drums and newcomer Camila Grey diligent on keys and synths. They fired up the music and the man in charge strutted a green-lasered entrance to the beat of his gold-certified club track For Your Entertainment and screams of the crowd. However, even stage mastery can encounter the odd real-world glitch, and Lambert smoothly improvised as technical issues around him were quickly resolved, and he powered on through the set without further delay.
Despite performing the single countless times, the lyrical significance of Billboard top10 and double-platinum hit Whataya Want From Me to Adam’s personal and professional life played over his features and echoed yearningly in his crooning vocals.
Bantering playfully before launching into the eclectic Sure Fire Winners, Lambert appeared toned-down and boyish in his ensemble of jailbird striped t, jeans and soft-spiky locks, yet still touched by glam in lengthy tasseled scarves, gleaming black suit jacket and twinkle-studded boots. Taking interest in the throng’s geography he queried how many present were actually from Vancouver? Medium cheers. How many came from elsewhere? Vast cheers impressed the rocker, who then asked who drove. Flew? Or struuuttted, he cooed, jaunting sideways on sparkling toes to boisterous laughter. Indeed, those who came to experience both shows included not only devotees from all across Canada and the US, but several from the UK, Japan, Hong Kong, and even South Africa, among others.
Those who struggle to embrace Lambert’s smoke and mirrors effects – or see beyond them – must find themselves mindboggled when the artist soars through nakedly acoustic versions of more decadent material. Curiously, critics who label Adam as “showy” with a tinge of admonishment in the statement appear to be missing the point and appeal of good entertainment. They fall short of realizing that Lambert proves he has the chops and the guts to skillfully execute fresh and dramatic musical art time after time – even stripped down to bare embellishment to body, stage or instrument. Such was the case with Broken Open, Lambert’s ethereal ballad which rendered the feeling of floating in space.
Certainly whether straddling high-tech lasers or sitting calmly on a simple stool, Lambert’s earnest emotion and clean, flawless vocals swelled the air, affirming the honest control of his multi-octave voice. Arguably his most agonizing of ballads, Soaked, led to a darkened bar where resignation to love’s elusiveness lurked in his eyes and elongated notes chased tumblers of loneliness. Yet Lambert’s glass remained half-full with the hope he laid tenderly down in full voice at the song’s conclusion. It is moments like these where the man turns his soul inside-out, inviting listeners to connect to his bared vulnerability.
Following a funked-up Mad World, the crowd was treated to the live debut of a devastating tune which speaks of a dying relationship hanging by conflicting threads of desire and apathy. With anguish shimmering on the rhinestones under his eyes, Lambert delivered A Loaded Smile seemingly on a single breath of his effortless falsetto.
While keeping the music real, Adam’s band members also embraced a free-flowing glamrock aesthetic. Charismatic Ratliff had it in spades: teetering on platform boots, waiflike eyes rimmed in kohl, gossamer blond locks whipping as he thrummed out each heartbeat and funk line. The nails of Pittman’s adroit digits gleamed shades of midnight and aqua widened his piercing eyes. Grey’s fine-boned features and likeness to a young Joan Jett colliding with a goth runway diva were striking. And the earthy Parsons was a bare-skinned kaleidoscope of dreams and legends animated by flying dreads and blazing sticks.
Lambert himself is a human theatre who refuses to compromise his dedication to giving his audience the best he has to offer, even at his own expense. Having pulled off a riotous romp of a live show, one would never have known the singer was reportedly exhausted that evening, due to relentless demands upon his jetlagged time and energy including mad preparations for his Idol mentorship and subsequent triumphant performance, upcoming European promo trip and concerts, along with planning and rehearsing for his GLAAD appearance and summer tour.
River Rock Show Theatre April 9, 2010
Part deux of the festival kicked in the following night as Howard Blank, VP of Media and Entertainment for Great Canadian Gaming Corp along with Drew Savage for sponsor Virgin Radio 95.3 introduced Adam, along with Elias, who self-consciously acknowledged they were playing to a portion of the same crowd from the night before. Still, they performed energetically and caught the audience up in their capable indie-infused rock vibe.
Awaiting Lambert, the room’s restless energy found release as Joan Jett and the Blackheart‘s “I Love Rock and Roll” blasted from the sound speakers and the crowd – more than ready to rock it out – swayed and belted out the chorus enthusiastically. The fever pitch intensified as Voodoo, Lambert’s fresh tune he describes as “industrial disco” hit the air, fooling the crowd into believing the glam-rocker had materialized.
Finally, Adam and his band reclaimed the stage to air crackling with heated excitement and deafening shouts. The singer struck a jaunty fedora-topped, trench-coated pose in almost waxlike homage to Michael Jackson, robotically coming alive with jerks of his limbs and thrusting into his album’s title track with robust force.
Strut was as relentlessly cheeky as the spats on the singer’s boots. The foundation of Adam’s connectivity is forged with a deep commitment to authenticity in his artistry. Not one word does he sing without conviction, and he is well-educated in music and art of past and present while innovating and challenging his own original style. Punctuating his self-empowerment message with high-kicking heels, stomp-shuffle flash and perilous “drop-it to the dance floor” moves, Lambert promoted a keen identification to the vivacious tune he co-penned with Kara Dioguardi.
Before charging into his disco party with amped-up verve and sass, Lambert owned up to his high-octane antics with comedic ruefulness, exclaiming “My rhinestones are popping off all over the frickin stage right now!” Then he went Down The Rabbit Hole, applying bold oral wattage to the song’s mind-altering playground that unravels itself into a questioning of identity. Sidling up to his keyboardist at the close of the tune, he asked “Who are you, Cam? Who are you? Hey!”
Indeed, a palpable chemistry resides between Lambert and his intrepid band. When he ventures into unpredictability, they flow right along with him, as revealed by the performance of Mad World. Plunked on a stool, Lambert eased the haunting lament on down the road in a refreshingly lively fusion of jazzy strums, tribal beats, driving chords and bass line to surprised ears. As he warbled out the usual final note, the glam-rocker suddenly thrust out an arm, shouting “two, three, go!” and delved into a luscious world of scat singing and tactile keening, hooked to the beat of the band. The crowd grooved and whooped while Lambert exhibited his ability to connect a sense of collaboration with free expressiveness, drawing to a close with an achingly tender wail.
Connectivity between performer and spectator, however, reached its summit when Adam invited all to enjoy his upcoming summer single If I Had You: “No matter how old you are, no matter who you sleep with, no matter what color your skin is…we can all party together!” As he jived his way through the dance track, it became clear that the gathered revelers had received his message and were responding in kind. Every time the singer belted out the lyric “you,” gesturing outward, a simultaneous sweep of arms eagerly pointed right back at him. The night before, the entertainer had gathered the crowd in his arms. But this time the fans embraced him back, clicking the connection into place in an up-tempo offering of friendship and love. Lambert, visibly moved by the ebullient energy, surged into stratospheric notes, joy radiating from him in waves of light.
Seemingly out to prove that the only artist and performer he can adequately compete with is himself, even as it appears he has hit his zenith of vocal mastery, Lambert juts out a hip and throws his instrument ever wider. His second live offering of A Loaded Smile captivated: delivering a crushing lesson in heartache with skillfully improvised phrasing and notes both chilling and uplifting.
For Sleepwalker, Lambert struck out in vocal proficiency laced with pain while Pittman muscled down into a guitar-gasmic solo with a dextrous slaying of blistering riffs. Lambert’s obvious awe of Pittman’s grit spoke volumes to the mutual respect, understanding and camaraderie these two artists share. Lambert then hit full-throttle sass to crowd favourite Fever. In his dramatic element with his best dirtied-up voice, he wrestled roughly with bassist Ratliff and shimmied fluidly, driving the infectious anthem of sexual impatience into feet craving the boogie.
The stomping Music Again playfully summed up what Lambert is all about: the music. With its space-age riff and that multilayered voice, the song exhales pure glam-rock with a feisty pulse. Lambert appeared gratified as the audience sang back the chorus in the track’s charged-up climax.
Bounding back to the stage for an encore, Lambert professed his love for his Vancouver audience, admitting that during their brief foray backstage he and the band had squealed to each other over the crowd’s enthusiasm. With heartfelt passion and a blinding smile, the entertainer closed the show with a parting shot of his highly successful single Whataya Want From Me, wrapping up the event by blowing kisses passionately out to the cheering theatre.
Adam Lambert’s show offered not a coffee-shop mellowing out where music is merely an accessory to conversation, but an escape to a sumptuous live arena that commanded the involvement of every sense. And his diverse – and growing – fan base are individuals who appreciate rich artistry, eagerly soaking up the gifts of a performer who delivers a live performance sparkling with artistic acumen.
In the cooling aftermath, Lambert’s band made themselves available to fans hoping to meet both them and the glam-master, who unfortunately had to miss the party in order to rest up in preparation for the demands of the Idol machine over the following days. With Adam confined to his quarters, tweeting thanks and apologies to the fans, his ensemble took up the gauntlet with good-natured and tireless dedication, posing for photos and signing autographs for throngs of fans spilling out into the River Rock hotel’s lounge. Buzzed from the thrill of the music and friendly association, a feeling of the good old days of rock’n’roll rose up in sparkly levity, shaking off nostalgia’s dust. It seemed the backstage had been converted to a street celebration for fans and musicians alike. Winding things down, the band eventually relaxed with a more intimate group of fans and friends at the casino bar, where drinks and animated conversation flowed pleasantly into the small hours.
The term “connections” in the entertainment industry connotes usury and blatant opportunism, but Adam Lambert along with his band instigated a genuine bonding with the fans over two days of glam swagger pop fused with straight-up rock balladry in our fair city. It is highly probable that those considering experiencing Lambert’s “Glam Nation” solo tour this summer can only imagine – but never fully predict – what delightful connectivity a full-scale show will offer. To help mitigate the taxing of body and senses, catch up on your sleep well beforehand.
By Lori Atkinson-Leung
Adam Lambert concert photo by Barbara Dengel