It would seem that this is a change of scenery for me; seeing an ex-"American Idol" singer "rock" out to an entire arena full of soccer-moms and their 14 year old daughters. I figured I would switch my normal scene for something a little different, hoping to be proved my stereotyping is a bias, and that maybe I am wrong for judging. I was looking to be proven wrong — hoping that this cookie-cutter rock 'n' roll artist from North Carolina might show me a thing or two. Daughtry has proven his place on the billboard charts, and has kept singles at #1 spots longer than the artist that won first place during his season of American Idol. What was his name, Taylor Hicks….?
I got to know a few of the 150 VIP fans standing outside in the blustery cold at the Bridgeport Arena in Connecticut. I discovered that they were as resilient and as hardcore as I imagined. I was not the one that was feverishly dialing into the fifth season of American Idol back in 2006 to cast my vote. So, it had me flirtatiously wondering, what is all the fuss about? What it is about these folks that have them so adorned with Chris Daughtry?
They had the T-Shirts and the notebooks all out and ready to be signed. They were painted with die-hard grins on their faces as they approached the meet & greet booth. All of them, even the adults came off as little children on Christmas morning.
I didn't get it, it's just Daughtry, right? It is quintessential pretty-boy rock and roll, mastered, and kept clean, at its best, or worst? A puzzling disposition of rock and roll, I don’t quite understand. It is hard rock in its infancy, the type that is valued by mothers and treasured by their children. The lyrics are easy and just about anyone could feel connected to the songs — keeping even the simplest of music listeners appreciative of underwhelming talent.
The arena was not as full as I might have thought it to be, but it was a Tuesday night, in Bridgeport CT… what did I expect? Daughtry is touring on behalf of their sophomore album Leave This Town, which debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 and has sold more than a half million copies in the first five weeks. "No Surprise" being the band's first single off the album, it is the their fourth #1 hit. In my mind, they have much hype to live up to.
The opening bands Cavo, and Theory of Deadman had the arena seats rather scarce. Which is a shame, because Cavo was quite the performance. And though Theory of a Deadman played second, they placed third. When a good studio band performs badly, you can just about understand why they have been at it a lot longer than Daughtry, yet are still just the opening act. Theory of Deadman gave just about the worst performance I think I have ever seen. At one point, I was almost sure the lead singer was lip-syncing, but that is just an assumption.
The members of Daughtry spared little vivacity to stir up the already salivating, mainly female audience, coming off like mad scientists on a mission to resurrect the corpse of arena rock. It is quite fitting to assume this is also an effort to ditch the stigma of being pop messiahs, crucified for backing a front-man whose claim to fame comes from being discovered on a pop-factory television show. Some of these criticisms, while snarky and unavoidably true, are also at times unfair in contrast to some of rock’s most legendary members.
Look at the parallels between Daughtry and Led Zeppelin, for example (sans the innumerable accounts of plagiarisms on Zep’s part of course): The boys of Led Zeppelin are made up of a bunch of studio musicians who had to settle with singer Robert Plant, because their first choice, Terry Reid, passed on the chance. By 1975, Led Zeppelin had been described as “Loved by their fans, hated by their critics” — something Chris Daughtry could write a book about by now.
I am not the only one who has done her rock ‘n' roll homework, as the boys of Daughtry have the fundamentals of “Rock 101” down pact. Everything from their wardrobe, to the lighting, and the slightly nervous (if not a-typical) frontman banter derived from a speaker blowing only five songs into the set. Daughtry was here to please and the hit singles were, of course, in full throw. The band’s latest, “No Surprise,” bolstered the pace and eased the apparent lofty expectations of the crowd, with a soft-rock appeal as smooth as butter…albeit butter that’s been left out of the fridge for a few hours.
Mega-hits (read: songs that have appeared in Guitar Hero) like “What I Want” had this affect of aural excitement that consumed the audience in a way that, even if not felt personally, was still apathetically present. Halfway through the show, the speaker was still popping and cracking with sounds of irritation. But the ridiculously mixed crowd of teenage girls, parents, and even grandparents ate up every scrap that Chris Daughtry and company threw at them. Seriously, the stout cabal of less-distilled 80 year-olds in the audience even sang aloud to every word. Speaking in droves to Daughtry’s appeal, it was almost moving.
Had I been standing in this same spot some twenty-three years ago, eyes wide with pyrotechnics and power ballads like the overcompensating “Over You,” I would probably be witnessing Bon Jovi in their prime, circa 1986. Fast forward to the present, and the shtick isn’t all that different. It’s an evolution, not a revolution, but it works just the same. When all motions were sung and done, it worked, seemingly devoid of auto-tuned vocals or Hobbits.
Daughtry, however, was unsuccessful at convincing me of their status as a chart-topping band. Maybe it was Chris’s airtime on American Idol, but the other guys in the band seemed two-dimensional, even transparent, next to the man whose last name makes up their moniker. Even after the first encore of “I’m Going Home” (insert frenzy), when the bassist got a front-and-center solo, I’d still pass him on the street and think, “High school is over, cut the Mohawk ya bum,” without realizing that he just released a number one album.
Daughtry remained true to a set of standards, treated like a tradition more than a formula for stardom. It may be that this tradition, by default, has lead them to stardom regardless. Like it or not, Daughtry’s show here in Bridgeport proved — along with half a million copies of the new album being sold in just five weeks — that the fourth-biggest-selling Idol isn’t going anywhere. I guess “4” is his lucky number.