Taylor Hicks is currently touring the U.S. as the Teen Angel in Broadway’s Grease. Hicks is also doing a “shadow tour,” playing clubs in the cities Grease brings him to. I had the opportunity to see Hicks perform one of these club dates, May 27th, at the Triple Door in Seattle. Hicks proved he is a first class musician and showman as he led his five piece band through songs from his new album The Distance, a few of his earlier originals, and a couple of surprise covers.
For anyone wanting to see Taylor Hicks the bandleader, guitarist, harmonica player, and singer these shadow tour shows are the place to do it. There is a focused intensity to Hicks as a musician that was not fully apparent when he was the winning contestant on American Idol. He spends less time dancing and more time focusing on leading the band through tight, energetic renditions of the songs. Taking the stage only a short time after his Grease curtain call, Hicks was bristling with energy and launched into the set with only a quick hello to the audience.
The show opened with the title track of The Distance and then went into the first single from the album, “What’s Right Is Right.” While I found the studio version of “What’s Right Is Right” to be a bit on the bland side, this live version was a different story. This take was raw and Hicks’ soulful singing on a raved up ending took the song to a completely different level.
Another song getting this treatment was the Paul Pena classic “Gonna Move.” It appeared on his post-Idol debut self-titled album. While a favorite of mine, that studio version was somewhat of a disappointment. The arrangement was a light smooth soul sound that was kind of boring. It was nothing like the live versions I had heard recordings of Hicks doing in the past. This version was. Hicks upped the blues element of the song, commanding his band to “swing it” at one point – which they did. Like all great bandleaders, Hicks is able to get exactly what he wants from his musicians at a moment’s notice.
Hicks performed his first few songs sans harmonic prompting someone in the audience to call out for it. Hicks immediately accommodated the request, grabbed a harmonica and called for the band to play Ray Charles’ “Hide Nor Hair” (the song appeared as a bonus track on the Wal-Mart version of The Distance. Other highlights included Hicks’ fine acoustic rhythm work on his early original composition “The Deal.” He delivered an impassioned vocal on “I Live On A Battlefield.” Hicks also performed a solo version of “Woman’s Gotta Have It,” which was recorded as a duet with Elliott Yamin on The Distance.
The best moments in the show were abundant during the last two songs. Hicks closed the set with an epic version of “Seven Mile Breakdown,” his latest single. He took the song to its full southern blues rock potential with a rocking jam coda that showcased all the musicians. The encore was the biggest surprise. After a few minutes of encouragement from the audience, Hicks and the band took the stage for a soulful rendition of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (though the arrangement was based on Billy Preston’s version). Hicks led the audience in providing backing vocals for the extended ending jam that eventually closed the show. The song was a nice tribute to both Preston and Harrison.
The shadow tour is a must for any fan of Taylor Hicks. Opening for him at Triple Door was singer/songwriter Keri Noble, who played a set of songs with no accompaniment besides her own keyboard. Towards the end of her set, Noble mentioned she was present for Hicks’ soundcheck. “That guy can sing,” she told the crowd, “I mean, I knew he could – but he sings his ass off.” Hicks truly is in his element as a live performer.