Taylor Hicks, backed by a six piece band, played to an enthusiastic crowd September 25th at the 7 Cedars Casino in Sequim, Washington. He commanded the audience’s attention for the roughly ninety minute performance, delivering a mixture of original tunes and covers. Soaked in sweat by the end, Hicks earned every bit of applause as he invested his customary passion in each song. He played rhythm guitar on most numbers, breaking out his trademark harmonica at several key points.
Performing nearly half of his most recent album, The Distance clearly dominated the show. Having honed these tunes on the road over the course of many performances, they all sounded even better than their already impressive studio versions. “What’s Right Is Right,” a hit on the Adult Contemporary chart last year, especially seemed to take on new life with a bravura vocal performance. “Nineteen,” preceded by an emotional tribute to the men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces, traded some of its country-and-western flavor for a more traditional R&B sound.
One of the quietest moments of the night was a sterling rendition of the very best track on The Distance: “Maybe You Should,” written by Hicks with Mike Reid. The song featured the simplest arrangement of the concert, allowing the audience to focus on the nuances of Hicks’ expressive vocal. Dipping back to original songs from his Early Works compilation, “The Deal” and “Hold Onto Your Love” both turned up, with the latter being one of the more jaw-dropping performances. Augmented by some stunning saxophone solos, the song transformed from its familiar Latin groove into a blues stomper.
A hallmark of Hicks’ approach is the inspired way he weaves pieces of other songs into the one being performed. The slow-burn groove of “Seven Mile Breakdown,” a blues-rock highlight on The Distance, morphed unexpectedly – but seamlessly – into The Beatles’ “Get Back.” It then took a left-turn into Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty” before returning to where it began. Similarly, Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” introduced drolly as “a song I did on that show,” segued into “The Runaround,” from 2006′s Taylor Hicks.
Among the covers was Delbert McClinton’s “Going Back To Louisiana,” prior to which Hicks’ cited McClinton as a mentor. Derek & the Dominoes’ “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” sparked instrumental fireworks amongst the band members. The cover tunes were all well chosen, playing to Hicks’ strengths as a singer.
Although Hicks’ powerhouse vocals are easily enough to sustain an entire concert, his band shines equally bright. Longtime associate Brian Less demonstrated his mastery of the keyboard more than once, gracing several numbers with extended solos. Wynn Christian, playing lead guitar, has a long history of working with Hicks. Christian wrote “Seven Mile Breakdown,” originally recording it with his own band Spoonful James. Christian contributed some blistering leads throughout the night, most notably on “I Live On a Battlefield.”
Saxophonist Jeff Lopez brought a small arsenal of horns. He switched between tenor, alto, and sopranino saxes as well as flute. The sopranino was a particular treat considering that it’s a seldom utilized, and very difficult to play, member of the saxophone family. At one point Lopez played his alto and sopranino simultaneously. Filling out the band was the very skilled rhythm section of Brandon Peeples on bass, Leif Bondarenko on drums, and percussionist Matt Kimbrell.
Immediately following the final tune (a cover of La Roux’s current hit “Bulletproof”), Hicks was out at the merchandise table greeting fans, posing for pictures, and signing autographs. This is a regular occurrence, no matter how understandably exhausted he may be after the show. It seemed nearly everyone in attendance queued up, waiting patiently as Hicks bonded with the fans one by one. Making that personal connection with his fans is obviously very vital to him.
Having interviewed him the day before, I really gained insight into the seriousness with which Taylor Hicks approaches his craft. I was fortunate enough to continue this discussion after the show, as Hicks invited my wife and I to spend some time backstage. What becomes clear from speaking with him, especially face to face, is the clarity of his vision of himself as an independent artist. “I’ve had a plan for my career arc right from the beginning,” Hicks explained, “which surprised a lot of people.” He’s well aware that some are quick to dismiss his success on American Idol as some kind of accident. But instead of worrying about those critiques, he’d rather expand his audience by demonstating his capabilities. Says Hicks, “It’s all about the music.”
It certainly was all about the music at the 7 Cedars Casino. The audience witnessed a thorough demonstration of said capabilities, with more sure to follow. For additional information about Taylor Hicks and his upcoming appearances, see his official website.