Tag Archive | "Sting"

She’s Over It: Katharine McPhee at the Staller Center

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Photos by Kenneth Ho – The Statesman

For those who run the arduous gauntlet of American Idol, life can be a strange carnival ride.  Witness the ride of Katharine McPhee, the runner up for Idol‘s fifth season.   As the wife of a Kat fan, I saw Ms. McPhee live, three and a half years ago, at a county fair in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  There, she — the woman who’d placed second in the nation’s largest singing competition — performed ably and bravely, despite the lack of a live band (she was given two back up singers and a boom box that she was beholden to work herself).  This was the same young artist whom David Foster, celebrated music producer, has taken the time to curry and feature as a guest artist on several special, well-televised programs … the same young artist who has toured with he of the gorgeous, moving throat, Andrea Bocelli … the same young artist whom noted musician Chris Botti invited to appear as one of his special guests, along with Josh Groban, Sting, Steven Tyler and others, in a concert that packed the Boston Pops to its rafters.

What the post-Idol label tossed so blithely and ignorantly to the curb, noted musicians, producers, and songwriters have embraced — and it shows.  On the evening of November 7, 2010, I saw a more confident, drop dead beautiful Katharine McPhee perform at the Staller Center on site at Stony Brook University, Long Island, New York.  Selling out every one of the venue’s approximately 1,000 seats, Katharine packed in fans of all ages: “tweenies,” university students, the middle-aged, and senior citizens.  Now recording with the well-respected Verve label, Katharine took the stage in black pants and a black sequined blazer.  Her once long dark hair, cut and donated to fashion a wig for a young cancer patient, was pinned up in back; a long fringe of long bangs swung across her forehead as she defied physics to move perfectly — I swear her nude-colored heels were five inches high! — across the stage for the hour-and-a-half long set.

Wisely, that set bowed heavily to her sophomore release, Unbroken.  There was no boom box and no computers/synthesizers, the latter of which had marked and marred her first, pop-and-ballad-heavy CD.  Manning live instruments, Kat’s very competent band consisted of Doug Petty on piano and keys, Dan Petty on guitar, George Dum on drums, and Brian Allen on bass.  The lovely Laura Jones provided backing vocals.

Unbroken had surprised the critics — and no doubt a number of fans as well — for its largely dark themes and lyrics.  I rather like darker songs; I always have.  For me, they are a far better reflection of what lies in the human soul, and far more enduring, than sunny little throwaway tunes.  From that album, Katharine opened with It’s Not Right.  Doubtful of her lover’s true heart, this deeply private pep talk featured quiet, roller coaster scales that illuminated the singer’s impressive range.  Had it All was a deceptively bouncy number whose lyrics bemoan the death of a once-good relationship.

The lynchpin of the album, the song Unbroken, always made me wonder if this was Kat’s well-mannered nose thumb at those who drove her first CD, which was cranked out in ten whole days; those who’d sent her out on the road with a boom box.  The song is about walking through a tough dark night to emerge bloodied but not broken.  Unbroken is a soft, heartfelt hallelujah that crescendos on Katharine’s crystalline vocals.

Keep on Drivin’ was one of my favorites: the genteel astral-twin of John Hiatt’s gritty, grinding The Open Road.  With a U2-esque melody and a repetitive chorus powered by Katharine’s hypnotic voice, the song painted the futility ride of one who drives aimlessly through the night to escape a heavy heart.

Say Goodbye, however, is — for me — the album’s true gem, as it was when Ms. McPhee performed it Sunday evening.  Recall, if you will, Bonnie Raitt’s You Don’t Have to Love Me, and you’ll get a good sense of the core of this song.  For this, the aural equivalent of watching someone perform open-heart surgery on herself, Kat was accompanied only by the piano and gifted cellist, Debbie Seppi.  It was beautiful and cutting.

Along with other selections from Unbroken, Ms. McPhee sprinkled her set with well-loved covers, including an angrier and much more powerful version of John Waite’s Ain’t Missing You, and Cee Lo Green’s Forget You, which — God bless C Lo and Katharine McPhee — heavily embraces old-school soul music.  Kat also gave a very able reading of the Kings of Leon’s whisper-to-a-pounding Use Somebody, as well as an exquisite version of Oleta Adams’ Everything Must Change.  I love Oleta.  I was heartened to see that Katharine, hailing from a generation largely ignorant of the great Ms. Adams, knows and respects this wonderful artist.

Donning a silver mini-dress and black heels for her encore, for which her adoring fans screamed and jumped to their feet, the beautiful Ms. McPhee offered up her version of Melanie’s lilting Brand New Key (an odd addition to Unbroken).  She followed this with It’s Not Christmas Without You, a song she co-wrote for her recently released Christmas CD, which, by the way, sold like hotcakes before and after the concert.  Wrapping up the set was the song that most fans feel is her signature cover, the one for which they clamor the hardest: Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  In this, the artist’s voice, balanced between soft and commanding, did not disappoint; Ms. McPhee received a standing ovation.

Judging by the number of fans who lined up to get her autograph after the show (my husband and I stood on line a good hour), the gracious and talented Katharine McPhee made a lot of people happy on Sunday night.  I hope that those who once treated her like the character in Steely Dan’s Reeling in the Years, who wouldn’t know a diamond if they’d held it in their hands, sat up and took notice of that. 

Tell Me That It’s Human Nature

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Deeply embedded in our DNA are certain genetic traits that propel our species forward or at least, ensure its continuation.   Every human being possesses the drive, if not the actual ability, to earn, create, or steal his or her most basic survival needs.  On some level, we all share a sense of humor and a profound desire to be respected and loved.  But beyond that, we are uniquely different individuals, as evidenced in the way that we conduct our daily lives, confront challenges, and rise above our basic — and most base — instincts.

Environment, to a certain extent, determines our perspectives upon and responses to life.  But, environment is not the sole criteria.  Some people assume that karma makes us who we are, and determines what we accomplish, in this life.  Simply put, the concept of karma holds that every human being must set to right those wrongs committed in previous lifetimes.  Thereby, we learn the lessons that advance us spiritually, cease the tedious process of reincarnation, and get on to the next stage in our evolution.

But even karma doesn’t quite explain the quintessential differences between human beings.  If we come into our lifetimes without memories of our previous lives, how are to we know — other than through extremely focused meditation/reflection — which lessons we came back to learn?   And even if we did remember, would we all do the same thing under the same circumstances?

Suppose, for example, that humanity was an experiment in some cosmic lab.  If the being conducting the test were to place two individuals into the exact same environment, under the exact same conditions in order to observe the results of a specified stimuli, five’ll get you ten that, minus the introduction of some variable impacting one of the test subjects, the results would still be vastly different.

Why is this so?  Did our Maker imbue each of us with a very specific personality gene?  Or was it a rogue gene placed there just to amuse that Maker?

Whatever it is, I still can’t answer these questions, not even after twenty-plus years of interviewing and working with individuals from all walks of life.

I still wonder, for example, how Christa McAuliffe, the first female astronaut and a teacher by trade, found the courage to enter a space capsule for the first time, a capsule that would tragically explode above the earth before even achieving orbit, due to a faulty O-ring.   I wonder what caused the strange woman on the subway to loudly and hatefully spew her opinion that Christa deserved to die because she should have stayed home to take care of her family instead of venturing into outer space, and what made those of us who admired Christa unloose tears instead of hatred.

I wonder why one child, physically and verbally abused in early childhood, grew up to make gentle, beautiful music, while another treated the same way in his tender years grew up to make violent and misogynistic rap.

I wonder why Tom Cruise, a renowned actor blessed with success and money, never learned to stop making a complete idiot of himself while John Travolta, another renowned actor blessed with success and money, quietly flew his own plane over New Orleans to airdrop critical supplies, on his own dime, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — while our government sat on its ass and twiddled its thumbs.

I wonder what gave Michelangelo the precision of hand and eye, and the inner vision, to craft something as beautiful and glorious as The David from a lifeless piece of marble. And what causes Puritans the world over to replicate that statue with one major difference: a fig leaf disguising the part of David’s anatomy that shows him to be unquestionably male.

I wonder what caused the highly placed senior executive at a firm that shall remained nameless to flip out one day.  While the man was tossing extremely sensitive documents concerning work that his firm was doing for the government off the roof of the company’s building, and while said executive was giving away bundles of money to every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the street, the “lowly” secretary was not only explaining things calmly to the FBI, she was holding the entire company together until its inevitable collapse.

I wonder how much blood money was enough to assuage the consciences of those in government who took bribes from BP and looked the other way while the fuel company raped our environment and our economy in the Gulf.  And I wonder how, in response to that tragedy, unpaid volunteers give tirelessly of their time and energy to clean up the beaches and the wildlife devastated by the worst oil spill the world has ever seen.

I wonder why one contestant on a reality TV show mouths off to a judge’s criticism, another one bawls, and yet a third laughs good-naturedly in the judge’s face.

I wonder why some teens bully and debase those who don’t march to their drummer.  I wonder why those on the receiving end take to heart the cruelty of those who contribute nothing of value to society, and why the victims suffer irreparable emotional harm and some even commit suicide, while their tormenters blithely go shopping at the mall, take in a movie, and spin the latest hip-hop records without a care in the world for the damage they have inflicted.

I wonder about the mother of one the scuz buckets that blinded and killed innocent animals several years ago, under cover of darkness, in the Popcorn Park Zoo, Forked River, New Jersey.  In court, during her son’s trial, the woman had shrugged and told the judge, “They were just animals.”  I wonder what she’d have said if her son had been murdered in jail — for he was incarcerated for his crimes — if his killers had shrugged and said, “Hey, he was just an animal.”

I wonder why Mario Batali’s recipe for struffola seems to work for him, even with what read to me like an overabundance of flour.  But when I tried Mario’s recipe, it yielded something that our military could easily use as weaponry on the front lines.

I wonder why some of my beloved relatives have passed on, while their earthly possessions remain intact.

I wonder why some of us who live healthy lifestyles are felled by cancer, while some of us who smoke like chimneys and eat like gluttons live well into our 80s and 90s.

I wonder if it was that last fried banana sandwich that truly did Elvis in and if it was more romantic/mysterious to hint that he died of an overdose.  I wonder if Aretha Franklin, one of my favorite singers, who must consume a bucket of fried chicken before every concert in order to calm her nerves, wonders the same thing that I do about Elvis.

Sometimes these things, and things like them, keep me up at night.  Sometimes I think that Sting was right when he penned the line, “History will teach us nothing.” Sometimes I think that yes, God must have implanted us all with that rogue gene, just to keep things interesting — if not supremely perplexing! 

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