Adam Lambert threw a party last night in New York City, and everyone was invited.
Take, for example, the middle-aged woman in the audience who’d traveled all the way from Auckland, New Zealand, to experience the Glam Nation tour alongside fellow female fans from around the globe whom she’d met on Internet message boards. And in a similar vein, while the audience for the first of Lambert’s two Manhattan concerts featured a mix of ages, races, and genders, a cursory glance around the Nokia Theatre revealed that the American Idol season 8 runner-up is indubitably connecting with women of a certain age.
Superficially, it’s a puzzling phenomenon: Openly gay male rocker drawing droves of adoring thirty- to fifty-something ladies who lazy marketing execs might expect to spend their Tuesday evenings sipping white-wine spritzers and listening to their local Lite-FM stations? But for those lucky enough to experience Lambert’s raucous 14-song set, the phenomenon makes perfect sense: If there’s any truth to the stereotype that gay men throw the best parties, Adam’s Glam Nation soiree is Exhibit A. And as a misfit toy himself — an artist whose Euro-Goth brand of vocal adrenaline and openness about his sexual orientation make his radio aspirations a protracted uphill battle — Adam’s fills his concert with a winking, conspiratorial giddiness that makes his fans feel like he’s singing directly to them. One of the biggest roars from the crowd, in fact, came during Adam’s performance of his hit single “Whataya Want from Me,” right after the line, “It’s me, I’m a freak. But thanks for loving me, ’cause you’re doing it perfectly.”
That kind of positive back-and-forth coursed through the entire Glam Nation set, with Lambert alternately serving as playfully sexy ringleader, Oprah-esque relationship adviser, and jaw-dropping vocal contortionist (albeit one who tends to dress in heavy tapestry fabrics that look like they might have been used to upholster Cher’s couches during her Gothic period). After a particularly devastating rendition of his ballad “Soaked,” Adam laughed about going “dark with a twist,” then, pointing to his chest, he philosophized about the struggle to overcome past hurts and find true love. “You chase your tail to enough bars and then realize the answer is in here.” Later, after ripping his way through the dance-driven current single “If I Had You,” Adam obscenely wagged his tongue and giggled “I love New York!”
The man also loves his most loyal Glamberts, as evidenced by his decision to open the show with a one-two punch of “Voodoo” (which appeared only on Adam’s remix EP) and “Down the Rabbit Hole” (a bonus track that came with iTunes pre-orders of his For Your Entertainment disc), followed by the Middle Eastern-flavored “Ring of Fire” that he first introduced during Country Week on Idol.
Adam then tackled what are arguably the two most commercially viable tracks off his album — the Lady Gaga-penned “Fever” and the Ryan Tedder number “Sleepwalker” — and, not all that surprisingly, these live renditions proved tighter and cleaner than probably half of his Auto-Tuned radio competitors.
After that, the laser-light show and backup dancers went quiet, and the stripped-down portion of the show kicked in for “Whataya Want from Me,” “Soaked,” and “Aftermath,” giving Adam a chance to show off what he’s famous for: That voice. The last of these tracks, a self-empowerment ballad that could easily serve as a National Coming Out Day anthem, benefited most from the sparse rearrangement, achieving depth and nuance that are largely absent from the recorded version.
The party returned to full force — and Adam got his pop-and-lock on — for the beautifully campy “Sure Fire Winners,” and the dance reverie extended through “Strut” (where a paisley skull inexplicably emerged as a backdrop), “Music Again,” and “If I Had You,” Adam’s treatise on the trappings of fame being meaningless without the secret ingredient of love. That sentiment might be too pat by half, but the crowd consumed like lemonade on a scorching summer day.
And just in case some of his Idol devotees came to see him without first sampling his debut disc, Adam returned for an encore of two songs he performed on Fox’s reality juggernaut: “Mad World” got a jangly rearrangement that unfortunately erased the haunting drama of his Idol version. Then, Adam slowed down the blast of sexual energy that is “Whole Lotta Love” and turned it into a howling, bass-heavy meditation that bordered on Tantric. Such a new-age twist might be blasphemy to Led Zeppelin purists, and it may have been unexpectedly mellow for a closing number, but the way the audience shrieked its approval, a successful concert climax was experienced by most.
As for Glam Nation’s opening acts, Adam’s Idol contemporary Allison Iraheta got the party started with a spectacular set that almost forced me to call 911, seeing how its compact 20-minute length robbed me of the necessary time to appreciate the red-headed teenager’s ridiculous vocal talents. Propulsive set opener “Holiday” found Iraheta bounding across the stage with a carefree confidence she never quite achieved during her Idol run; it’s clear that she’s much more at home surrounded by her band than she was with four reality-TV judges ready to pass judgment on her clothing, her demeanor, and her personality. A brief sampling of the devastating ballad “Scars” led into a terrific take on current single “Don’t Waste the Pretty” that featured muscular guest work by guitar goddess Orianthi (who popped in for one song only). The set-closing cover of “Heartbreaker,” meanwhile, turned out to be an inspired choice for an 18-year-old with the soul of someone quite probably three times that age.
Following Iraheta, Orianthi was a bit of a letdown. The “According to You” singer has a stilted stage demeanor that brightens only when she stops singing and focuses on her exceptional guitar skills. Aside from those interludes, though, one must decide whether to fixate on Orianthi’s unremarkable ditties (the rote “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” the Sarah McLachlan-lite “Courage”) or the fact that her bangs failed to move a centimeter through the duration of her nine-song set. The lone highlight of Orianthi’s competent but sleepy act was was the romping “Think Like a Man,” an obvious choice for the Australian diva’s next single.
Have you been to see the Glam Nation tour yet? Do you have plans to in the coming weeks? If so, share your own opinions in the comments below. And to get all my Idol updates, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak, and follow EW’s Music Mix blog, too, @EWMusicMix.
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