EmptyHouse of Blues, West Hollywood
Friday, May 4
This was not the sound of young America.
Last year's "American Idol" winner, Taylor Hicks, drew an older crowd about 10 to 15 years his senior Friday night, filling only two-thirds of the Sunset Strip House of Blues. While the likable 30-year-old Southern singer gave it his all, Mr. "Soul Patrol" was just too safe.
Hicks certainly was an Energizer bunny onstage; all he needed was a drum to bang, though he did hit a cowbell, strum acoustic guitar and play a little electric, too. With his premature graying hair and regular-guy spastic dance moves, he came off like a schoolteacher -- albeit a talented one -- fronting a hammy bar band.
His voice summoned a bit of grit at times, but heavy-handed arrangements and a lack of genuine identity just made it all sound like Vegas lounge/cruise ship entertainment.
Part of the problem is that the material from his major-label debut, "Taylor Hicks" (Jive), is way too calculated, pushing for some kind of airplay, watering down the soul influences he professes to love so much. His latest single, "Just to Feel That Way," sounded less rooted in hard-earned '60s grooves than pop of the late '70s and early '80s with tepid funk window dressing.
A detour into Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" during "Hell of a Day" was confounding, a non sequitur thought other than to push the audience's memory button. And later, a funked-up excursion into Chuck Berry's "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" also made little sense.
As a writer of such songs first recorded independently as "Heart and Soul" and "The Deal," Hicks understands style but has yet to master probing substance. Funky beats and cliche popping bass are just surface tricks.
Among the covers in the set, a chunky version of Traffic's "Medicated Goo" hit the mark, but a run-through of Les McCann & Eddie Harris' "Compared to What" was messy. Hicks' interpretation of Marvin Gaye's "Wherever I Lay My Hat" also fell prey to busy clutter, lacking variation in tone or texture from the more boisterous numbers.
Hicks could still have a solid career ahead of him, but he needs to take charge -- not unlike the way Kelly Clarkson finally did. Other artists before him have mined rock, soul and blues with more gusto and far better material; Southside Johnny and Delbert McClinton come to mind. And with the commanding way such singers as Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone draw on R&B past while incorporating contemporary elements, Hicks just comes off as soul lite, less fulfilling than the real thing.