Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: Christopher Cross, Neighborhood Theatre

Christopher Cross’ concert at Neighborhood Theatre Sunday night was unlike any show I’ve seen in that the audience may or may not have been witnessing a public wooing. What the singer-songwriter said was his first Charlotte show (although one reader emailed to say he thought he saw him play Ovens in the `80s) was a very open, intimate set that even managed to tug the heartstrings of the friend I brought with me who wasn’t even born when Cross had his biggest Grammy and Oscar winning hits.

She was drawn in not only by the music but by the love story that some of us in the audience fantasized was picking up after 30 or so years. From the stage Cross was very open about the former girlfriend who inspired his second hit album “Another Page” being in the audience. Midway through his nearly hour and a half set he introduced a song he wrote for the “love of my life” that he left off that particular album because it was too personal. Things felt very personal and real through that portion of the show. Through “Talking in My Sleep” and “Think of Laura” (which was written about that girlfriend’s deceased best friend) it felt like he was singing just for her. It could’ve been a scene from a movie. “Laura” was particularly moving. Cross got choked up and it’s such a beautiful song. He certainly wasn’t the only one.

Aside from the imagined (or not) movie scale romance (although I decided I’m glad my husband doesn’t write lyrics because I find the idea of him serenading me pretty embarrassing), Cross and his five-piece band were a bunch of seasoned pros.

They opened the show with “Never Be the Same” from his smash self-titled debut - the one that garnered all those Grammys. He joked about a long career and nine albums - many of which are out of print and only available at "garage sales and flea markets" - before introducing his band.

He touched on his latest album, “Doctor Faith” with “Hey Kid” and “Dreamers,” but most of the material was culled from those first two hit albums which are likely what most fans are familiar with. He also played his ode to Tina Fey’s “30 Rock” character Liz Lemon ("Lemon's Theme" which you can watch on YouTube). He mentioned that Fey told him that it was no coincidence the guy her character married earlier this season shared Cross' name.

Cross was backed by a drummer and percussionist, bassist Chazz Frichtel (who spent years working with Michael McDonald), and two keyboardists - one of which doubled as a mean sax soloist. Cross provided the only guitar (which is pretty refreshing when you consider bands that travel with so many guitars playing at once they all mush together). He's a subtle player who can whip out a solo with ease.

“Walking in Avalon,” the title track to his 1998 album, straddled the line between adult pop and smooth jazz beginning with a rippling bass solo and featuring percussion and sax solos. Cross mentioned the sexy song, which tells of an affair with a free spirit, was banned at radio. I'm not sure if it was his mention of doing mushrooms or his inferred profanity (he says “mmm…” but we all knew what luck rhymed with), that served as its death knell at radio, but it - along with “Kid” - was a highlight of the later era material. 

Things truly escalated for “Sailing.” The shakers and rain maker and the full band treatment helped recreate the beachy feel of the original recording (which undoubtedly helped coin the term "yacht rock") and Cross’ voice hasn’t faltered with time. He still hits the high notes. 

“Best That You Can Do (Arthur's Theme)” and “Ride Like the Wind” (with Frichtel handling McDonald’s backing vocals superbly) ended the regular set with most of the crowd on its feet. The group returned for “Say You’ll Be Mine” - the opening track of that 1979 smash. Cross ended the evening by stepping off the bus outside the theater to take pictures and sign autographs for fans.

It was a really sweet and special show from the stories he told to his connection with his now Charlotte-based ex to the fans we met in the audience sharing their stories of what his music meant to them.

With no opener we were out of the Neighborhood Theatre by 9:30 and at Amos’ in time to see Hot Water Music - a post-punk band from my post-college days who have returned with a great new album. The polar opposite of Cross, but two good shows in one night perfectly timed. You can't beat that.