Monday, November 17, 2014

Phillips Rocks the Hard Rock

Phillips struts his stuff for the Seminole Hard Rock crowd in Hollywood, FL

Having seen Phillip Phillips last summer opening for John Mayer at the Cruzan Amphitheatre (West Palm Beach), and post-Idol the year before doing a few acoustic songs at Mizner Park Amphitheatre (Boca Raton), this would mark my first time seeing Phillips headlining a concert tour of his own.

One thing you can see right from the start is Phillips, while still ever the humble and gracious southern gentleman, has evolved from a deferential leader into a truly confident front man fully embracing the spotlight of his own tour. He may say he gets nervous (as he claimed after he played my personal favorite Phillips song, "Take Me Away", a killer, dark rock bonus track from his debut album, "The World From The Side Of The Moon"), but it certainly doesn't show. He is in complete command, always appearing comfortable in his own skin as a performer, artist and leader of the band.

The capacity at the venue is 5,500, but they curtained off the back third of the theatre so capacity was probably about 3,000 for the show. It was pretty packed, so my guess is he drew at least a solid 2,500. Not too shabby for a first solo tour.

The crowd itself was a mix of all ages, as one would expect from his older Idol base mixed with teenage fangirls of his popular singles, and couples looking for a fun Saturday night out to catch a good show. As a couple in our 40's, my wife and I were probably about the median age.

The crowd understandably seemed less familiar with tracks from his sophomore album, "Behind The Light", than TWFTSOTM. That's to be expected considering BTL has sold roughly 125k copies compared to the million plus selling blowtorch of his platinum selling debut.

It doesn't mean the crowd wasn't into it, just trying to absorb what for many was new material with lengthy jam sessions that probably left them simultaneously impressed and a bit confused. My wife was one of those, as she's much more familiar with TWFTSOTM than BTL, and didn't realize he was such an instrumental-driven jam band performer at heart.

I see this as a transformational period for Phillips that will include some of these growing pains. He's morphing into the artist he is at heart, and some fans of Idol and his popular singles may not be coming along for that ride.

"Home" and "Gone" are still huge crowd favorites, and will be for the rest of his career. The crowd goes nuts for the familiar hits, and the songs are close enough in style to where he is heading as an artist so that old and new fans will remain equally excited to hear them at his shows.

Therefore, I seee Behind The Light as more of a bridge album than a destination record. Poppy songs from his album, like his single "Unpack Your Heart", while performed with gusto, are somewhat overshadowed with instrumental jams that are really the centerpiece of his show. More complex rock songs like "Fly" and "Trigger" seem far more in line with where he is heading as an artist, along with the haunting "Thicket" and intricate acoustic jam "Face". These songs are enhanced by the extended intro and outro jams, not overshadowed. Like they are truly part of the songs rather than a diversion.

What I would like to see as the next step for Phillips is to establish a permanent band, even change from being a solo artist to The Phillip Phillips Band. If so, David Eggar, his virtuoso cellist, is an absolute must to be in this group. He's simply brilliant at his instrument, while also a highly charismatic live performer, and the one musician of the group who is truly irreplaceable outside of Phillips himself.

I'd also like to see Phillip embrace taking on some instrumental solos of his own. He is an extremely skilled guitarist, and I think the crowd would appreciate seeing him be part of the jam session element in that respect. It would expand his presence in a positive way, and complete his role of band leader and headliner.

My summary takeaway from the show is that he was still a hit with the crowd, but we're really only scratching the surface of this journey. It'll be fascinating to see the makeup of the audience when he is touring with the 3rd album under his belt. By then he'll be a more established with a bigger catalog of music to choose from for his tour, and perhaps a somewhat different audience demographic mix at his shows.

I personally can't wait to see how it all plays out, because I'm a huge fan of where I see this train headed.

Poo out.


  1. The best critique of Phillips and his music I have read thus far. I too am intrigued and excited to discover where Phillips' journey will lead,


  2. Today at 2:42 AM

    I found myself nodding my head as I read your review. I'm a fan from Idol days, but got sold on Phillip at the first show I went to, when (playing with a quartet) he launched into an acoustic intro I didn't recognize that eventually led into Hold On. I loved it, and I haven't looked back as a fan since.

    So, I'm someone who loves instrumentals, can't get enough of a jam band. You were so right – when the instrumentals enhance the song (as on Thicket, one of my favorites live), it's fantastic. I wish you had gotten to hear Man on the Moon - a tremendous jam at the end that really completes the journey of the song.

    I too think that forming a permanent band is probably where Phillip's heart lies, and where he will grow the most musically and performance-wise.

    I do think he also can do quieter songs without jams – the lovely FACE, with it's obvious jazz influences, as well as the acoustic version of Fool for You that he is doing on tour, and Tell Me A Story which is simply beautiful as he performs it live. I think in fact that he needs these types of songs to provide a bit of contrast for the jams, which then enables the crowd to appreciate the jams more. Plus he can do these quieter moments well, and when he believes in the song, they are truly worth hearing.

    The only other thing I would add is that Phillip has a real musicality about him, and I enjoy way he's able to sample from other songs unexpectedly– the "Rooster" intro he's done a few times this tour for MOTM, the "Over the Rainbow" tag he's put at the end of TMAS. I hope he continues to do this, and open up his songs in this way (as well as through jams).

    Anyway, thanks again for blogging about your concert experience, and for being honest in your appraisal of Phillips performance, music and possible career path. It certainly gave me food for thought – never thought I'd write this much LOL. I too am in for the long-haul – and hope that he's able to continue making music & touring for a long time, because I can't wait to see what's on the other side of this bridge.

    Mary @GypsyRose

  3. Love the review Kenny! Wonderful job as usual! I agree with all except I hope Phillip continues to be the spotlight for the band! He is very generous to share the performance time with them each show, therefore we get tons of spectacular instrumentals already. I am a hard core Phillip fan...gotta have more of him and his amazing vocals! The band is fabulous but I don't want to lose the unique formula that comes with his voice leading the way! Keep up the fabulous reviews Poo!