Sense might not make the man, but a touch of humor is always a good idea when you’re playing an intimate concert with a friend.
The “ancient and formerly mulleted” Richard Marx (his words, not mine) with longtime friend and musical collaborator Matt Scannell (lead signer of Vertical Horizon) took the stage at The Community Theater Mayo Center for the Performing Arts in Morristown, NJ, this past Friday night as part of an ongoing tour featuring the unlikely duo. Not only was the music awesome, but the rapport these guys had with each other and the audience made the night a really great end to the otherwise hectic week.
I’ve been a fan of both artists’ music for many, many years. My older sister, who went to the show with me, loved Richard Marx when his first few albums came out. Through the CD’s I pilfered from her room and a broadcast concert on MTV – yeah, back when they were all about the music – that she taped and we both watched ad-nauseum, Marx’s music became an integral part of the soundtracks of our youth.
Fast forward ten years or so and Vertical Horizon comes on the scene. Fresh, rocking, emotional, and electric, the group captured my attention the first time I heard “Everything You Want” on the radio in 2000. They’ve been kind of quiet for a few years, so when I heard that Scannell was playing with Marx, it sounded like a no-lose opportunity. I loved both artists’ music and had never pictured the two together, though in reality they’ve been collaborating and playing together for years. The prospect was too good to pass up.
The theater was packed, not a single seat was open before the darkened stage that held two stools, two acoustic guitars, and a piano. As soon as I saw that, I knew I was in for a great night, not only because I love acoustic shows, but because it would be just the two of them. No back-up singers. No pageantry and showmanship. Down and dirty with the two guys the whole thing was about.
Marx was wonderfully irreverent and completely on his game — except when he flubbed his own lyrics. But hey, Scannell did the same and we all helped them out any way. It was all good since the atmosphere was more of a gathering of friends than a concert you had to pay to see. Scannell and Marx likened their show to VH-1 Storytellers (to which neither had ever been invited) and took turns playing their own songs, backing up the other, and sharing tales from behind the music and the spotlight.
Marx showed that he most certainly does not live up to the “light FM” typecasting his older music has been set into, as he showed the full range of his vocal and musical talents. Yes, there were the standards of “Should’ve Known Better,” “Don’t Mean Nothing” (flub, flub), “Endless Summer Nights,” and “Right Here Waiting.” But he also played newer songs that were less familiar, but no less memorable. They included ones that he and Scannell wrote together and recorded on their CD entitled “Duo;” “In My Veins,” which is a tribute to Marx’s late father; “Always on Your Mind;” and “When You’re Gone.”
Scannell was raw and gritty as ever, and simply amazing to see in person. He brought Vertical Horizon’s hits to life, with Marx on back-up guitar/keyboard and vocals, including “You’re a God;” “I’m Still Here,” which was written when Scannell had a 104-degree fever; and “The Best I’ve Ever Had.” What surprised me were some songs from the band’s first two major label CDs, which I own, that I’d never really listened to before. These include “We Are” and “Give You Back,” which was simply haunting, as was Scannell’s performance of “Carrying On,” which is off of Vertical Horizon’s most recent album, Burning the Days.
Tour dates for future shows can be found at Richard Marx's website. I highly recommend anyone who likes either of these artists’ work to scoop up some tickets while you can. These shows are rare and such an all around good time. Good music, laughs, reminiscing, and small spaces — who could ask for more in a concert?