Phillip Phillips | 10.01.14

PP35 75Phillips impressively blended style and substance, revealing himself to be a true—and truly talented—musician.




PP14 500

Paramount Theatre, Denver

Opener Christian Burghardt and his band took the stage wordlessly before launching into “Paradise” from the singer-songwriter’s debut EP, Safe Place to Land. After that, Burghardt introduced himself to the crowd as “a new artist.” What followed were five more songs, all from the EP save one, which he explained was new. For “Like It or Not,” the boy and his band brought things down a level, delivering what was in part an acoustic rendition. The new track was fully acoustic, as he and his guitarist sat on stools and played in tandem. The EP’s title track, a beautiful slice of cheerful pop music, closed out the brief but enjoyable set. And so the trap was baited.

Promptly at nine, Phillip Phillips and his six-piece band took the stage to excited applause. Before he even played a note, the performer invited the audience to stand, further inciting our enthusiasm. We would stay on our feet all night, most of us dancing and singing along. He opened with the grinding, in-your-face “Fly,” a punch of rock and sound that told us he wasn’t just a singer-songwriter, not by any means. Phillips’ band—guitar, bass, horns (usually a trombone, but the trumpet made an appearance or two), keys, cellist, and drums—expanded and built upon the acoustic guitar he played (with great talent), making every song a unique rendition not available on album. For his part, the cellist showed great enthusiasm, often jumping up and down, spinning his cello, and wearing a full-on grin.

PP50 300rBut it was Phillips who showed the most passion. He was rarely without a smile, even while singing, and he watched his bandmates as they ripped through one extended jam or solo after another. This fervor was infectious, reflected back at him by players and viewers alike. After an extended coda wrapped up the song, he explained the heavy-hitting track with: “Sometimes you’ve just gotta start it like that.” Up next, “Raging Fire” was accompanied by trumpet bursts and four-part harmonies. Toward the end, Phillips got the crowd to sing along, and then proclaimed, “I love Denver!” (This was his third visit to the Mile High City this year, another sign of his adoration.) And we loved him, too, every single one of us.

He referenced our city again a few minutes later, saying, “It’s gotten to the point where it’s hard to breathe.” He then called upon men who knew the lyrics to do the singing if he couldn’t—of course, that never happened; he was in fine voice all night—but then joked that the guys wouldn’t admit to knowing the words; they were just there to maintain their relationships. In truth, there were plenty of guys rocking out; despite his status as an American Idol alum, Phillips is more rock ’n’ roll artist than sappy crooner.

Not only did Phillips & Co. display their musical expertise on extended intros, codas, and outros, but also on the snatches of cover songs they slipped into here and there. After swelling into a full-band conversation, “Lead On” broke down into a quiet, acoustic couple of lines from “Sweet Melissa.” Next up, an acoustic blues-roots rendition of “Unpack Your Heart” which found the fabulously excitable cellist delivering backing vocals with his hands in the hair, taking in the gospel that was Phillip Phillips. The player featured prominently on the next track, introducing “Where We Came From” with a haunting, almost ominous sound. Like the songs that preceded it, this one also rose into a cacophony of sounds and instruments and voices before, again, Phillips stripped it down to just him and the flamenco sounds he played on his acoustic guitar.

PP36 250LjpgHe checked in with the audience—“Hope you’re enjoying the show so far”—and received roars and applause. It didn’t matter if you weren’t a Phillip Phillips fan before the show; you certainly were now, in spades. “Thicket” was a slower number, with Phillips beginning the sound and the others slowly joining in instrument and voice. Without a break, the band launched into the massive and fabulous “Gone Gone Gone,” the audience providing 2,000-plus background vocals. Into “Waste Away” the singer inserted a bit of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away,” impressively blending style and substance to reveal himself a true—and truly talented—musician. Indeed, the entire show was about musicianship, not showmanship, something that is woefully rare in today’s arenas and concert halls.

Sometimes while he was playing, Phillips’ face would take on an extremely focused and intense expression as he lost himself in the song. “Digging in the Dirt,” an amazing rendition of a Peter Gabriel song, gave way to my only niggling complaint of the night: a drum solo that went on far too long. The keyboardist got a chance, also, delivering a burst of staccato funk that was impossible not to enjoy. No doubt, his band was tight; not only were they consummate musicians, but they played together as if they were of one mind, everyone anticipating what was coming and delivering a blend of sounds that seemed well-practiced but probably weren’t entirely so. “Drive Me” and “Get Up Get Down” closed the main set. We weren’t ready to say goodbye, though, and neither was Phillips, as he would return for an encore.

Retaking the stage, the band delivered a lounge-cool version of “Face,” complete with wah-wah trombone. “I like that song a lot,” Phillips revealed afterward. “It’s like you walk into a club—” His thoughts were interrupted by a girl in the audience yelling, “I like you a lot!”—precisely what we were all thinking. Up next, a long, jammed-out musical intro filled the Paramount, building upon itself until wall of sound crashed down into a mellow medley of sexy songs: “Superfreak,” “Hot in Herre,” and “Let’s Get It On.” Finally, it was time for the show closer, a country-roots rendition of his big hit “Home.” Again, we were treated to four-part harmonies and a delivery unlike anything we had on disc. With that, Phillips released us into the rainy night, each of us finding our own way home richer than when we had left. | Laura Hamlett

Photos by Ashby Walters. View the full album.

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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