What do middle-aged couples with binoculars, pensioners from the surrounding counties and children ages 6 to 16 all have in common? They apparently all still love American Idol, based on what The Spin saw at Bridgestone Arena Sunday night. It's been several years since we were avid watchers, but if you've lived in America in the past decade, you don't need to be a devotee to know the format: Kids with dreams enter a nationwide karaoke contest, one triumphs. The live tour wrangles the Top 10 contestants (seven of whom were born in the 1990s) and plops them onstage to perform some of their better-loved covers from the show, along with tepid group numbers that seem pretty unnecessary.
Plopping them down onstage isn't critical cruelty: The stage was just a blank slate, with a very expensive video screen playing what looked like Windows Media Player visualizations from 1995, aka The Birth Year of Runner-Up Jessica Sanchez. Hometown-hero-with-a-Rufio-hairdo Colton Dixon and soul singer Joshua Ledet received the biggest applause for their opening video sequences (wherein the contestants shoot like asteroids down to earth, painfully prescient), while Rachel Dratch character Skyler Laine received little to none. But at least we figured out what she looked like — we were unable to ever tell the difference between Hollie Cavanagh and Elise Testone, noting them as "skinny blonde" before realizing it was two different people. One of them at one point literally screeched like a hawk and was applauded for it.
Pretty-mouthed hair monster DeAndre Brackensick seemed to be popular, though it seemed like he was more often relegated to backup duty than allowed to take the spotlight. We liked Heejun Han, who thankfully provided something up-tempo with John Legend's "Green Light," which segued into a group-sing for "Party Rock Anthem." He wiggled his butt a lot, the kids went wild.
Ledet was a legitimately good performer, because he possesses something called "charisma," a quality the majority of the contestants seemed to lack. We saw a man, probably 70 years old, grooving out to Ledet's rendition of "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," and that was adorable. Unfortunately, no one ever told Dixon a haircut is not charisma, but that didn't stop the kids from loving him; he's got a very cute face, and is exactly the kind of tree every preteen girl barks up at some point. He was an unconvincing, nasal vocalist, kind of an emo-er Our Lady Peace.
The highlight of the night (we suppose) was winner Phillip Phillips, hottest turd on the quad. His douche-rock version of "Superstition" tore the place to shreds, as did "Nice and Slow," with a grating Nashville shout-out shoehorned in. Fucking Gotye, too. Ledet was robbed.
Mondays are usually quiet for The Spin. After a somewhat indulgent weekend and a full day at the office, it can take something like an inter-city Wiffleball game to get us out from in front of Antiques Roadshow. When the word came that Dirty Projectors would be paying a visit to Cannery Ballroom, however, we shined up the good shoes and mosied over.
The Spin thought we'd take advantage of our uncharacteristic punctuality to get our sip on, but we were surprised to see support act POP ETC taking the stage at 9 p.m. on the dot. Fans of the group's previous incarnation, Morning Benders, might have recognized the players onstage, but not their sound. Gone are the sun-splashed harmonies and big, roomy drums that were the hallmark of brothers Chris and Jon Chu's previous work. The Benders' warm pop was replaced with icy, Auto-Tuned vocals reminiscent of recent Phoenix and Air, and Dilla-inflected beats crafted by producer/engineer Andrew Dawson, best known for his work with Kanye West and Lil Wayne.
The four-piece was nestled in a forest of keyboards, laptops and drum machines, and performed tracks from the record with note-perfect precision. The gaggle of well-scrubbed youths in mustaches and high-waisted shorts was packed in close. Still, we felt POP ETC's material might be best heard in a bedroom via headphones. The group's skill and dedication were apparent, but their passion took its time to infect the audience. Heads bobbed, but only a little — certainly not much we'd really call dancing. Finally, after several polite calls to get groovin', Chris Chu broke down the wall by jumping into the crowd for the closing number, "Yoyo." Hips dipped, strides glided, and we even spotted one couple portraying a yoyo in interpretive dance.
During the beer break, the anticipation for Dirty Projectors was apparent — the near-capacity crowd let out a massive cheer each time the band's tech came onstage to test an instrument. But finally, the lights dimmed to reveal a projection of what might have been a French flag seen through John Lennon's glasses, as David Longstreth & Co. launched straight into a series of tunes from their new record Swing Lo Magellan. Crafted to focus attention on lyrics instead of the finely detailed arrangements of their 2009 album Bitte Orca, Magellan tempts us to overuse words like "angular" and "quirky," as Longstreth's winding and pleasantly unpredictable vocal melodies unroll over bubbling, choppy rhythms that one might not expect to get the backfield in motion.
However, the textures the band laid on the crowd were rich and colorful, in some cases a little more so than on the record, and they helped reel us all the way in by dropping the fist-pumping choruses of "Offspring Are Blank" and "About To Die" near the top of the set. Every song featured a different way for the audience to join in, whether clapping along with the unconventional yet irresistible beats, or adding to the dense three-part harmonies led by guitarist/tone mistress Amber Coffman. Where POP ETC's groove was somewhat shrouded by the density of their instrumentation, DP's comparative spareness made the rhythm physical. Bottom line: We commenced to jigglin', whether we wanted to or not. In last week's Scene preview penned by Chris Parker, Longstreth said that he doesn't "want to make music that is cerebral and arid." Based on this performance, we have to say mission accomplished.