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Concert Review: Vanessa Carlton “Bites” Las Vegas Festival

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The Bite of Las Vegas is an annual event held at the Desert Spring Park at Spring Mountain and Durango in Las Vegas, Nevada. This year felt as good as the rest. The birds were singing as the kids played. The green grass swayed to the left, then right, then back to the left. The sun was shining like the heavens above. All seemed perfect until a has-been pop act, known as Vanessa Carlton, walked on stage.

I have to give her credit for taking away the audience’s attention, if only for a short while. It was as if everybody was waiting for her to play her 2002 mega-hit, “A Thousand Miles.” It was the second to last song and as one can predict, everybody walked away after they got their cheap thrill of a concert moment.  

Don’t get me wrong: “A Thousand Miles” is one of the best singles released this decade. I would have to say it’s probably one of the five best, but it’s been hard to compile a list since good music is a rarity this decade. But one good song among more than thirty others doesn’t make a great pop artist. Being an expert at playing the piano may make one a great pianist, but not a pop musical act that can move an audience.

It’s also quite obvious that Vanessa Carlton didn’t learn, from Mariah Carey. Being able to hit almost every note – within two seconds at times – does not make one a great singer if the notes she hits make no emotional connection to the lyrics she is singing.

Five years ago, critics hailed Vanessa Carlton as the act that would save us from the hottest three pop acts at the time: Britney Spears, Janet Jackson and Madonna. It’s not that these three acts have a whole lot in common, but since they’re female artists who use their sexuality, they not only get ignorantly lumped together, but are put into the “no talent” category among the musical elite. You see, to be taken seriously as a female pop star, you have to dress in jean shorts and masculine outfits. You also have to play an instrument and pretend to be poetic. Then, the musical elite will love you.

Vanessa Carlton fit the perfect model for the musical elite: she didn’t lip-sync like Britney Spears nor did she welcome the gay community like Madonna and Janet Jackson did. The only sexually provocative thing she did was wear tight jeans or jean shorts. To the musical elite, the tight jeans didn’t matter as long as it wasn’t a tight or short skirt.  

Judging from Vanessa’s horror act at The Bite of Las Vegas, she didn’t learn much from another female act once adored by the musical elite, Jewel, who screwed her career up by taking herself way too seriously. Jewel’s once great music turned into psychobabble. To make things worse, she wrote a cheesy book of poetry.

Vanessa Carlton seems to be going in that direction but, unlike Jewel, doesn't have any charisma to make her audience forgive her. Before introducing a new song called “Heroes and Thieves,” Vanessa swayed her head from side to side and proceeded to tell us that this song was inspired by a walk through Central Park. Trying to create a poetic picture, she told the audience that it was raining one day and she decided to take her shoes off and walk through the park (for those who care, she did stress she didn’t get any diseases). Somehow, she received an “epiphany” about “heroes and thieves” in her life and then realized that we need the “light and the dark.” Thank you, Vanessa!  

Some people in the audience chuckled. I didn’t. I fantasized about running up on stage, spitting at Venessa (and telling her it's poetic rain), breaking her piano keys and throwing them at her face. Before I could entertain this nasty thought any longer, Ms. Carlton made a mistake on the chords and said, “Pretend that didn’t happen.” I wished we could have pretended this concert never happened.  

After “Heroes and Thieves,” Vanessa Carlton snobbishly said, “Okay, should I just get the song out of the way now?” knowing the only reason people were still listening was to hear “A Thousand Miles.” The audience sang along as she started the song. Vanessa looked thrilled as if she just won the lottery. But she probably wasn’t thrilled when people departed – similar to the way cats depart when they see mice – when she sang her encore, “Home.” Hopefully, that’s where Vanessa Carlton headed after the show.

Vanessa Carlton should teach the music industry a lesson: although audiences are fed up with bubblegum female pop stars, trying to push a singer who can play piano and hit different vocal high notes won’t change anything unless she can make a connection between the piano bars she is pushing, the high notes she is hitting, the lyrics she is singing, and the audience she is playing to. Vanessa Carlton has rarely made this connection and her two most recent albums, Harmonium and Heroes & Thieves, have not even been certified wood. There’s a reason for this and it’s not because audiences don’t appreciate good music.

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About Daryl D

  • James

    I find this portion of your article particuraly distasteful: “I fantasized about running up on stage, spitting at Venessa (and telling her it’s poetic rain), breaking her piano keys and throwing them at her face.”

    What a childish reaction, it’s just sad that you had to include that in your article, like or dislike her style and music as you may but your opinion could have far more tactful without the inclusion of that vulgar statement.

    Personally I love her new album, it’s enriched deeply reflective and thoughtful lyrics with beautiful musical instrumentals that fit the mood of her songs, beautiful yet sad at the same time, not the same trash that Britney and others spew onto the airwaves.

  • daryl d

    I was obviously being sarcastic, in a crude way, with my semi-violent fantasy. But if you were at the show, you would understand that most of the audience felt this way. As I mentioned, Vanessa certainly has the fingers and pipes, but what good are they when she can’t make a connection to an audience that was more than willing to give her a chance.

  • Shades

    How does she make a connection with you, Daryl….spit at you? Don’t pretend that you can speak for the whole audience. V puts on a great live show. Isn’t that what you were reviewing?

  • Train Wreck

    I’m curious as to why you attended the concert in the first place. You don’t seem to have any knowledge or liking of her music beyond her one big hit. Plus, you seem extremely irritated at having to sit through the performance.

    What made you want to go to the show to begin with? What were you expecting that you didn’t get?

  • daryl d

    There were other people playing besides Vanessa. “The Bite of Las Vegas” features a lot of food and a lot of different acts. I was forced to sit through Vanessa because the people I was with wanted to. Like me, they were disappointed.

  • Anon

    What a load of bullshit.

  • Anon

    And Vanessa is one of the few who actually does make a connection with her audience, so NEXT.

  • B

    I think in your article you are missing the entire point of who Vanessa Carlton is and where she is musically. Most people will associate her with A Thousand Miles and assume that she will always strive to make music like that. Much to the contrary, the majority of Vanessa’s work delves into very much an adult contemporary or Hot AC context, with much of the music being fairly abstract or open to interpretation.

    Vanessa has always been pretty strong about her sound and not wanting to change the way she does music to sell records. That is what a lot of the content on Heroes & Thieves is about, how there has been a lot of pressure on her to change her sound to sell records but she hasn’t done it.

    Vanessa is happy with who she is and where she is musically. There are a lot of people who have really enjoyed her musical growth as she has grown from Be not Nobody to Harmonium to Heroes & Thieves.

    Just because Vanessa has trended away from the formula which is considered her commercial success doesn’t mean she can’t relate to a crowd or she sucks or whatever interpretation you want to have about her. She relates to HER crowd, the type of people that dig her music. When she opened shows for Stevie Nicks, she received many positive reviews, as her style of music fits more of the old school model many fans who would come to see Nicks appreciated.

    As fan I’d like to see Vanessa get a lot of respect from the masses, but I know there won’t be another song like ATM from her that the masses will eat up. And if that is true, maybe she won’t ever get another platinum record. However, if she doesn’t compromise who she is and still makes music she is proud to release, she probably will be happy with that, and as a fan I will be too.

    I’m sorry you weren’t feeling her show, and while it is your right to write what you did, I don’t think it appropriate to try and trash someone like you did simply because you were disappointed with their show.

  • Ben

    I understand what you’re saying in some parts of your “review”, but looking at the critical reviews of Vanessa’s albums it seems that she has gotten better with each album?

    Which makes me think your whole “…have not even been certified wood. There’s a reason for this and it’s not because audiences don’t appreciate good music.” statement seem a bit flawed..

    But I will say that I think Vanessa’s songs have meaning and they are beautifully crafted, however I think sometimes live she needs to put more emotion into her performances to engage the audience. She’s not telling a story if she is just playing a piano and singing a tune – she needs to connect!

    But still, way too harsh.

  • Natalie

    There was absolutely no reason you needed to be as rude as you were in this review. I have attended concerts that I have not liked, and while I would share my more personal opinion with friends, I would never have written this way in a magazine which I assume is meant to be a credible and professional publication.
    It was not as if Vanessa personally offended you in any way that required an attack back at her. You should have gone to the concession stand during her act and saved yourself from looking ignorant and immature.
    I have been to more than one Vanessa Carlton concert and found her witty and charming, not to mention extremely talented. I would advise anyone reading this article not to look toward you as a credible source.

  • rhodes

    One of the meanest reviews I’ve ever read for a concert. Also one of the most hilarious and witty as well.

    Actually, I am a former A&M (Vanessa’s former label) promoter. There is a reason she left our label and it’s not because she wanted to. We had NO use for her. She was a complete snob and couldn’t face the fact she was a one hit wonder. She also thought of herself as “smart” but she was more ditsy than Paris Hilton.

    Vanessa probably knows or has an idea who this is. I hope she’s enjoying the “newfound” success she’s having at her new label. Her album came out two weeks ago. Too bad only about ten people bought it and they’re all posting here!

  • Kate

    Look pal, there’s a difference between writing a negative review and writing pure slander. Obviously you’ve got some, as you Americans call it, “issues” (“I fantasized about running up on stage, spitting at Venessa, breaking her piano keys and throwing them at her face.”) but there is no need to broadcast it to the world by slagging some poor girl you’ve never even met – it’s not her fault you’re retarded.

  • Shades

    Rhodes, I’m skeptical that you’re truly an A&M promoter as you say because although you show bitterness in your comments and your continued interest in Vanessa after she left the label, you also show teriible unprofessionalism in your comments. Would a true A&M employee risk getting their comments spotted by, say, Ron Fair, head of A&M? I don’t think so.

    It’s also unbeleivable that an A&M promoter would show their face here simply because “Harmonium” is a great album that failed because it NEVER GOT PROMOTED! A&M promotions failed miserably in doing their job.

  • rhodes

    Notice I said the word FORMER but given that you are a fan of this Vanessa doll it is understandable that you have a limited vocabulary. Like I said, if you knew her in person you would NOT be a fan of hers because she is arrogant, ugly, two-faced and a lot of other things I can’t say here.

  • ally

    To each their own, I guess. Your review is well written but clearly unprofessional and immature. The only snob I sense in this entire situation is you.

    Don’t take yourself too seriously.

  • tsuki

    So what if Vanessa is an arrogant snob like you say, rhodes? That doesn’t mean that she can’t make great music.

  • ar

    This article is a joke. I’ve never read anything more unprofessional. It’s like reading an article from a middle school newspaper.

  • Nicole

    Who the hell do you think you are? You sound like a huge snob. This article tells nothing important about the concert (hint: YOUR personal opinion is NOT fact) and your sarcasm isn’t funny in the least. My dog could have written a better review. And what is this bullshit about Vanessa’s voice not connecting with the lyrics? SHE wrote the damn songs so I think she makes the decisions there. Maybe if you actually took the time to listen instead of fantasizing about spitting on her, you would have heard a beautiful person pouring out her heart and soul.

  • boi111

    I am not a huge fan of Vanessa’s music but I do agree that this article is unprofessional. Again what was with that childish fantasy, can you have been more immature? And, what did you expect? Vanessa Carlton plays piano themed songs and ballads. Were you expecting heavy metal? I think you simply don’t like this music but you should not judge her based on preconceived notions. I thought you gave harsh criticisms with nothing to warrant your attacks. GROW UP!

  • S

    If you do not like her music, don’t listen to it. It’s as simple as that. There is no need to say immature and rude things about an artist who is simply putting herself out there.

    And I’d like to see YOU try to play those piano melodies.

  • Annie

    Oh wow. Another Vanessa hater. How original.
    And really, “I fantasized about spitting at Vanessa…”. I didn’t even bother to read past that. Her music quite obviously isn’t your taste, which is fine, we all have our different tastes in music, but you could at least have identified WHAT it was about her you didn’t like, which you clearly did not do, except for telling us that Vanessa “couldn’t connect with her audience.” Well, you failed to say HOW she didn’t connect with her audience, or even better, what she could have done to successfully connect with her audience. I love her music, personally, she is an excellent lyricist and even better vocalist, and attacks like these are unnecessary and childish, especially on a musician as good as Vanessa. How about reviewing one of the acts you DID like, huh? It sounds like you were being cynical and simply negative for no reason. The next time you write a review, make sure you have good, stable reasoning, or you will get comments just as negative and bashing as your review.

  • sarah

    i’m not a music critic, or a promoter, or anything important. i’m just a fan of vanessa and her music. i’ve never seen her live, so i cant comment on that.
    i also won’t say you’re stupid for not liking her music or wrong for writing a bad review.

    there’s nothing wrong with writing a bad review about an act you didn’t like. that’s what a review is, an opinion. i say this just so you know i am not being completely biased and unfair to you just because you dont like her.

    however, i hope you read this because i do want to say that i think you should listen to some of her songs again and look at the lyrics more closely.
    also i think you should appreciate that she writes her own lyrics. no one should like her for this alone, but when you look at her lyrics, which are so personal, i dont see how you can dislike her so much.

    you wouldn’t read someone’s diary and then want to spit on them.

    i think you may have judged her too much based on your bias towards the so called ‘musical elite’, wanting to defend those who are ‘ignorantly lumped together’ (i agree with that) such as britney, against vanessa, the ‘anti-britney’.

    i think that’s what turned your review turned into more of a rant.
    two paragraphy on the musical hierarchy of the ‘elite’, followed by a paragraph on jewel, then a paragraph critique of her personality and storytelling, then a paragraph of the spitting thing, then your closing paragraphy consisting of making fun of her because the audience left and her albums weren’t extremely successful.
    your critique of her connection with the audience was the only legitimate review of her performance, since you critiqued her IMAGE and personality more than you did her music.

    you listed no songs that were particularly good/bad, nor any specific moments, weaknesses lyrically, instrumentally, or vocally, or any strengths.

    i know you don’t like her, which isn’t wrong, but why don’t you just take a few minutes to listen to her stuff on youtube or something, and read the lyrics with an unbiased mind.

    then, even if you still don’t like her, write another review on something more substantial, like her lyrics, her vocals, or her instrumental abilities.

    it IS possible to write a negative review in a respectful way(:

  • rhodes, if you even check back and see this,
    is she really truly that bad of a person? or is it just a dispute you have with her?
    i really want to know, because that surprises me

  • L

    wow… horrible review… I was actually at the show you so “cleverly” bashed. In fact I only went there to see her. Not only does your sarcasm have no place, but from my recollection the WHOLE park stopped to do what they were doin and actually sat at the stage. I had to stand because all the room was taken. Not a single soul moved from her captivating performance till after she was done. As for you not liking the performance I cannot criticize, however as to your comment about people just waiting for A Thousand Miles so they could leave, I’ll have to call you on your lie. A Thousand Miles was near the middle of the performance. If not closer to the beginning if I remember correctly and no one moved till after she left the stage. I would have to agree with Natalie. I would not look to this article as a credible source as to determine if one should decide to see her live. She likes to connect with her fans so of course she describes her inspiration, and explains the various circumstances that leads to the creation of the music people like to listen to. In fact I look forward to hearing what she has to say before she plays. I found this review to be quite distastful and childish. Not only because half of it is not true and the other half is vulgar insults and violence. Sarah she is not a bad person. Everyone has thier secrets but obviously rhodes has a problem with her, but I would say that none of it is true… and if it was she has changed alot. If you should be able to see her live you can see for yourself that she is really sweet and really cool. She likes doing the more personable concerts too so just go up and talk to her if she’s out in the open.

  • Oria

    People like you, Daryl D, are why there is shit music on the radio.