Thursday, 2 June 2011
2011 Summer of Gigs #2: Richard Marx at the RAH

I’ve never followed Richard Marx very closely. At the time that Repeat Offender was riding high in the charts I was quite keen to get myself a copy, but then Billy Joel put a new album out and, only being nine at the time I couldn’t afford both, so the Marx album fell by the wayside (at the time I remember thinking that as Marx guested on said Joel album I was getting the best of both worlds). Years later some fellow Toto fans raved about his 1991 album Rush Street (which, incidentally, contains a guest appearance from…Billy Joel), so I picked it up and found it to be very good (especially the closing third) but still didn’t feel a need to delve further into his catalogue, although obviously I was familiar with many of his radio hits.

Then, around two decades after he’d last performed in the UK he played a show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire (my local, if you will!)) and I would have been tempted to go if it hadn’t been on the same night as Steve Lukather’s London gig. Those who did attend raved about it, and a mere seven months later he came back for a more extensive UK tour, which again received rave reviews from all who attended, so I thought that this time I’d better just bloody well go and see what all the fuss was about. Good decision.

The date last year and the other gigs on this tour were stripped-down acoustic only, but the Albert Hall gig was billed as a full-band affair, although in practice this wasn’t the case for the first half of the set. Opening with two of his best singles – Endless Summer Nights and Keep Coming Back Marx appeared solo and armed only with an acoustic guitar for accompaniment, and swiftly demonstrated an engaging stage persona with a voice that has worn the years extremely well.

A string quartet then came on stage to provide added textures to the rest of the acoustic material, beginning with two tracks from the 2004 album My Own Best Enemy, the second of which (One Thing Left) Marx described as the first ‘pussy love song’ of the night, which is typical of his cheerfully self-deprecating manner (as was his dismissal of those who cheered the mention of My Own Best Enemy with a ‘Yeah, right – If I came to your houses I wouldn’t see it on your CD shelves! But thanks anyway…’). One of the highlights of the night was new song Save Me, which featured additional (pre-recorded audio and visual) accompaniment from Marx’s 3 sons, demonstrating that his is one of those ridiculously talented families. Utterly annoying but I’ll forgive them just this once…

I’m not sure how long it’s been since Marx has performed with his band, but when they joined him midway through the set he greeted them (musically speaking) as long-lost friends and the vast majority of the second half of the 2-hour plus set was high-energy pop/rock and roll, dominated by his early hits (Don’t Mean Nothin’, Take This Heart, Angelia, etc), but also including newer songs, and hits he’d written for other artists – Better Life, a song co-written with Keith Urban, was another of the evening’s highlights, and was nothing like as ‘country’ as I’d feared it would be when he introduced it!

One of the oddest things to happen in the band set occurred when he asked us if we were up for a singalong. Of course we were, but then we got the news that this was a brand new song and he’d have to teach us the lyrics first! Luckily our part consisted of ‘Na na na’s’, which we sang with …erm, restrained aplomb, I guess you might say. In any case it was the first time I‘ve ever seen a new song used for audience participation, let alone one that ended up being a strong contender for song of the night.

The evening came to a close with the obligatory Right Here Waiting – I had thought Marx might return to the stage alone for a final encore and play this solo on piano, but the band remained with him (see below), and a song I’ve always kind-of liked, but certainly never loved, made me a bit weepy (I really do need to get a ‘You made me cry – you bastard/s!’ sign to bring along to gigs, I’m sobbing far too much just lately…) While some of his ubiquitous radio songs (well, just the cloying Now and Forever really) may see some dismiss him as too ‘lightweight’ he proved beyond any doubt that there is far more too him than those ‘pussy love songs’…and that Repeat Offender would have been the better choice all those years ago…oh well, don’t suppose it’s too late to nab a copy… (9/10)