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.