Star Bright, Star Lite.
Live Review by
Jon Dunmore © Oct 22, 2007.
First star I almost saw tonight…
When you hear Bobby Soloman Smith, many things become apparent: his well-honed vocal talent, a stage confidence that belies his 25 years and a pop-funk sensibility that tempers his old-school metal ‘do (from Ray Charles to Ozzy Osbourne, his influences are his image); it’s apparent this Houston, Texas native knows how to soak up applause and woik de laydayz - it’s also painfully apparent that he’s all alone on that stage, singing to backing tracks.
I’m pretty sure that’s called Karaoke.
Next stop: Milli Vanilli. But I come not to bury Bobby, but to praise him. It is the Industry itself that is burying Bobby, with audiences conditioned to accept this faux-live partial-presentation; crowds who accept music with half its frequencies missing on their myriad media mishaps (computer speakers, earpieces, cellphones) readily cheer Bobby doing nothing more than what he does in the shower – sing to recorded music.
Hearing him showcase his originals, The Way That I Love You, In My Eyes, Gotta Move On and Etta James’ At Last (performed a cappella), there is no arguing he possesses a distinctive, well-timbred voice. But so did Elvis. So did Aretha. And Dio and Barbra and Frank. But none of these artists would be the household names they are today if they lacked the substance of live musicians backing their vocal outpourings.
That’s the essence of “live music.” The magic and beauty of watching and hearing artisans carving something from nothing.
So though there was a potentially bright star on the rise at the Canyon Club tonight, like beer or salad dressing that lacks the fatty but tasty ingredients, I saw a star LITE.
But then, is there any call to criticize Bobby and his management on their decision to keep it simple (and cost-effective) when the headline act - vocal veterans, Boyz II Men - set such a bad example doing exactly the same thing?
|Boyz II Men: Is It Real or Is It Karaoke?
With no lightshow to speak of, an incompetent road crew, with 10 voices heard when only three men are singing, it's not about the integrity of the music or the pride of the presentation anymore - it's about the overarching marketing that can garner the perception of a band's clout.
Not that Boyz II Men are even a real "band" anymore, but a bunch of record company puppets.
At any live music event, whatever the genre, there was always a "moment" for me - an inspiring epiphany where I lose myself in the "magic" of what is being created onstage from nothing. I can't do that anymore - no matter how drunk. So few acts care to create that magic anymore; epitomized in the way the Boyz backing vocalists didn't even bother SINGING, but "mouthing" the words whenever they were not performing the lead vocal. It was shameless. It was pathetic. It was - unfortunately and literally - the state of the art; the low state that the art has attained through laziness and greed.
Economically, the industry is gasping like a Devonian fish with half-evolved lungs, as keeping costs down meant Bobby not only lacked a band, but had to battle lazy house techs (are there any other kind?), no lightshow and dicey sound.
Nonetheless, Bobby’s youthful enthusiasm buoys his performance; his love of the road and an ambitious management team have kept him vital across the country and out of it, with appearances all over Texas, New York, Washington DC, Northern Ireland (to name a few), at festivals, sports events, the Cancer Society. (Performing the song Alone always has special meaning for him, as he lost his aunt to cancer.) His schedule is full: More Than That, a recording with Paul Wall, is featured in the upcoming film Swap Meet; Doc G guests on his new album (being recorded in Texas, Nashville and New York), as does Jeff Timmons (of Sureshot), while Bobby pushes his advantage on the West Coast with ongoing club dates…
To blast out of club obscurity, Bobby doesn’t just need a live backing band – he deserves it, or his natural talent will be squandered and his energy level will subside without him even realizing it. (The cabaret dancers he utilizes for a couple of songs, though talented, are no substitute - Jackson, Madonna, Beyonce, though they pile dancers over their stages, have the credibility of live musicians backing them; running to a click track or not, live musicians keep it vital.)
And if Bobby Soloman Smith can do that one big thing – front a band - he’ll be the Next Big Thing – a true star. Without the salad dressing.
Bobby Soloman Smith:
star in waiting.