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Mike Daisey Interview – The Last Cargo Cult

July 31, 2009 No comments
Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey is a breath of fresh air. In an era where there is so much derivative work  appearing on stage (look no further than Shrek The Musical, Legally Blonde or Xanadu),Daisey reminds us why we go to live theater in the first place – to see something happen, in the moment.

Unlike many other notable monologists, Mike Daisey does all his performance extemporaneously. His monologues are never rehearsed and the only guide he uses is a set of notes which he amends at the end of every performance.

I’ve had the opportunity to see Mike Daisey perform on three occasions:  21 Dog Years (doing time at Amazon.com) in 2005,  Monopoly! and If You See Something, Say Something which Daisey performed at the 2009 TBA festival.  It’s been an amazing experience to see Daisey grow as a performer, and so I was extremely excited to discover that PICA was bringing him back to Portland to workshop his latest work The Last Cargo Cult (which he performs on August 1st at 8pm in the Wieden + Kennedy Atrium 224 NW 13th Ave)

Here’s our interview with Mike Daisey where he talks about the process of creating his monologues, The Last Cargo Cult, and why Portland has such a deep connection with his work:

Here’s Part 2 of the Mike Daisey Interview:

For more information on Mike Daisey:

Categories: Interview, Theater Tags: , ,

Welcome to Valhalla – Portland's Newest Food Cart

July 28, 2009 No comments
This Way to Valhalla

This Way to Valhalla

Portland’s food cart scene is one of the most dynamic and explosive in the country. What’s exciting to see is how the food carts are growing and flourishing beyond the defined cart clusters (or cart villages like SE 12th and Hawthorne, often called “Cartopia”).

This month the scene got a huge enforcement when Burgerville decried ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ and launched its own mobile food cart called the Burgerville Nomad.

But Matthew “Black Arm” Woodard doesn’t think too highly of the big businesses jumping into the cart scene. “Cart’s are for the little guy, not big businesses to make even more money”. Woodard is the owner of Portland’s newest food cart, Valhalla. Formerly a welder, Woodard decided to beat the economic downturn with a food cart specializing in Vegetarian and Vegan comfort food. “There aren’t a lot of affordable veg sandwiches in this town. Backspace is $8!”

Perfectly Grilled Vegan Sandwhich

Perfectly Grilled Vegan Sandwhich

Launched on the hottest day in Portland in over twenty years, Portland’s newest food cart helps fill the gaps in the dining options on SE Hawthorne.  Located on SE 33rd and Hawthorne, tucked behind the Dollar Scholar, Valhalla serves up a simple and affordable menu that is sure to quickly find a following.

While the menu might be simple, the tastes are anything but. I had the Vegan Garden sandwich, which came panini-grilled on two slices of Grand Central Baking Como bread filled with Tofutti cream cheese, cucumber, sprouts and tomato. The bread was brushed with a rosemary vegan butter and grilled to absolute perfection. All the ingredients in the sandwich were fresh and the tomatoes were bursting with flavor. The sandwich cost only $5 – $3 less than its equivalent across town.

To accompany the sandwich I had a cup of the Vegan Creamy Tomato soup. More subtle in flavor, the soup was not overly creamy and had a nice mix of flavors. It’s not your plain ordinary tomato soup and it’s clear a lot of tought went into the combination of flavors.

Valhalla's Menu

Valhalla's Menu

The rest of my family got the three cheese and tomato sandwich ($4) which featured Boar’s Head Cheese on Grand Central Bread.  Also cooked to perfection, these grilled cheese sandwiches were gobbled up in no time.

Next time I visit Valhalla (and there will be many next times) I’ll try the Vegan Sloppy Joes which were highly recommended by Woodard.  He also indicated that he’d be carrying homemade pickles that are sure to impress.

With fantastic food at good prices, Valhalla should do extremely well and show that great carts can succeed even when they are outside the cart clusters.

Valhalla Sandwich Co. is located at 3279 SE Hawthorne Blvd (right behind Dollar Scholar). Hours haven’t been set yet but they should be 11am to around 10pm daily.

Follow Valhalla on Twitter @valhallacartpdx

Categories: Food, Vegan Tags:

Doing Time at The Oregon Brewers Festival

July 24, 2009 4 comments
Volunteering at The Oregon Brewers Fest

Volunteering at The Oregon Brewers Fest

I’ve lived in Portland now for sixteen years and almost every summer I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Oregon Brewers Festival at Waterfront Park.   After enjoying one of the nation’s premiere beer festivals for so many years I decided this year it was time to give back to it and spend a shift volunteering.

Several months ago I submitted an application through the Brewers Fest web site and indicated I wanted one of the first shifts of the festival.  After a few months of waiting I finally got a little green card in the mail confirming my shift.

When I showed up the morning of the first day of the Brew Festival I was struck by just how many people had turned out to volunteer. I didn’t really realize just how much manpower it takes to fuel the event until I looked out over the sea of volunteers patiently waiting for their shift to start.

After signing in I was asked which tap I wanted to be at. I realized then that I had neglected to look over the complete list the night before. I sat thumbing through the possible assignments and decided to pick Stone Brewing Company. The beer at that tap was an interesting Belgium IPA hybrid so I knew it would be one that would draw true beer enthusiasts (although I didn’t know just how enthusiastic some people would be about Stone Brewing).

Stone Brewing Cali-Belgique IPA

Stone Brewing Cali-Belgique IPA

After a very short orientation talk which included how far to fill each cup, how to tell when someone is intoxicated and when to cut them off, we were lead to our taps.

Given how strict the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) is, I was surprised how short and informal the ‘training’ was, especially considering how rigidly controlled some of the other aspects of the festival were. For example, at the end of my shift I walked outside of the complex to check if the Burgerville food cart was still there (as I hadn’t eaten lunch) and I was told I had to dump my water bottle out as I reentered. Total insanity.

At the tap we were giving another brief rundown of how the shift would run, some simple do’s and don’t and then we waited, and waited, and waited.  A good fifteen minutes after the official start time we finally got the OK from the the OLCC guys to turn on the taps and start serving the beer… and then the fun started.

After pouring my first pitcher of beer I realized that I hadn’t been given an opportunity to taste the beer I was pouring. After shrugging my shoulders more than a few times when asked what the beer tasted like I started to grill each beer fest goer as to what they thought of the beer.  The wide variety of responses was amazing. Some people thought the Cali-Belgique IPA was very flowery, others really hoppy. One guy said, “‘It starts off tasting like a Belgian and then drops off to an IPA,” while another proclaimed, “Yeah, this is an IPA from the get-go”.  I heard the beer described so many different ways by so many different people that I wondered if I was serving the same beer to all of them.

Happily Pouring Beer at The Brewers Fest

Happily Pouring Beer at The Brewers Fest

After about an hour into my four and a half hour shift I began to see a pattern – a good majority of the people coming to try the beer came because of their affection for the brewery. “I’ll try anything that Stone does”, commented one festival goer while many just proclaimed, “Give me THE STONE”.  I also found that many people extended their affection for the brewery to me as if by proxy serving this beer I was connected to the goodness that is Stone Brewing.

One of my biggest challenges serving beer at the beer fest was that the Cali-Belgiue IPA is an extremely ‘heady’ beer. As I poured the beer from the tap into the pitcher a thick head of foam would form. Several volunteers and even the tapmaster tried to pull a pitcher of the beer without it being so foamy and none of us succeeded.

About two hours into my shift I realized another major mistake I had made. By taking the first shift of the festival I hadn’t had an opportunity to try or have any beers, so after serving twenty or so pitches of the Stone Brewing beer, I wanted a beer more than I had ever wanted a beer in my life.

One Extremely Foamy Beer

One Extremely Foamy Beer

As my third hour ticked by I continued to pour to an almost endless line of people, and I was extremely happy doing it. There’s something about giving people something that they enjoy that’s extremely gratifying. As each person happily sipped away at their beer I felt a sense of joy that I could be a part of that experience.

As the fourth hour ticked by we got slammed. One of the other volunteers keep a second pitcher going as I quickly drained the first. More people came up to get full glasses of beer so we were constantly battling with the foam to keep the beer flowing.

I was finally ‘relived of duty’ by another volunteer after four and a half hours of pouring. On one hand I was excited to be able to go off and enjoy the beer at the Brewers Festival, but another I was sad to to see the shift end. It was a remarkably enjoyable experience.

My very first beer of the Brewers Festival was the Bayern Brewing Dragon Breath Dark Heff. The beer had been recommended to me by one of the Rogue Brewing brewmasters. The beer was a tasty and unique beer that I quiet enjoyed. As I savored the beer I remembered that I had neglected to eat lunch before my shift and that even the small taste of beer was already having an effect. Unfortunately I made yet another mistake and plunged ahead.

Determined to make my way back to taste the beer that I was pouring all day I made a quick stop at Full Sail Brewing to taste their Full Sail TLD 03 , a remarkable light and crisp beer. Then to Scuttlebutt Brewing Company to try their subtle and drinkable Tripel 7 Belgian Style Ale.  Still working my way towards Stone Brewing I stopped at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery for one of the stand-out beers of my tastings, a Festina Peche, a brilliant, sour peach fermented beer. I then decided I couldn’t pass Ninkasi Brewing and try their Radiant Summer Ale. I’m a big fan of Ninkasi but I really didn’t care for their Summer Ale.

Sucess! Stone Brewing's Beer

Sucess! Stone Brewing's Beer

By the time I finally made it back to the Stone Brewing tap I was feeling little to no pain. Working a full shift (and not drinking enough water) and skipping lunch had brought my alcohol tolerance to near zero. But at last I had a chance to taste the beer I had been pouring all day. As I took a sip I savored every morsel of beer and then smiled realizing that I had been pouring one of the better beers of the festival.

Volunteering at the Oregon Brewers Festival far exceeded my expectations. It’s something that I plan to do every year, and I now have some key lessons that I’m going to share:

  • Go over the beer list the night before and pick a beer that interests you to pour
  • Show up early to your shift so you can get a good pick
  • Eat a good sized meal before your shift as there aren’t a lot of chances to take a break
  • Drink lots of water
  • Have A beer after your shift but come back the next day for the full tastings when you’ve had a chance to have some good food, water and rest
  • Volunteer!! The fest runs on the enthusiasm and generosity of local beer fans and you have the ability to contribute to that.

The Oregon Brewers Festival is always the last full weekend in July and this year runs 7/23-7/25 at the Waterfront park.

For more information see:

For the 2010 fest be sure to check out PDXPipeline who is giving away a $50 package to the Oregon Brewers Festival.

Categories: Beer Tags:

Burgerville's new food cart – Nomad

Burgerville's Nomad Foodcart

Burgerville's Nomad Foodcart

If you had any questions about the huge impact that food carts have had on food services in Portland, look no further than Burgerville‘s new food cart “Nomad”.

A rough economy combined with an explosive growth in food carts in Portland has motivated one of the Northwest’s biggest chains to jump in the mix in a ‘if you can’t beat them, then join them’ move.   It’s not only a significant endorsement to Portland’s food cart scene, but a recognition that  both the physics and the economics of running a restaurant have changed.

The importance of Burgerville’s move is important beyond the fact that they are trying to keep up with the changing landscape. Burgerville CEO Jeff Harvey seems to understand the potential for using the food cart to expand his business in a way that wasn’t fiscally viable before.  Harvey plans to use Nomad to test out new markets, serve markets where a full restaurant isn’t economically viable and extend their brand into places they haven’t been able to reach before.

The real question to be answered though:  is the boom in food carts a function of the bad economy or do they represent a real and fundamental change in the way people get food? It’ll be interesting to see how Nomad fairs and if it becomes central to Burgerville’s long terms strategy or just a tool they use to weather the storm of the great recession.

Here’s our interview with Jeff Harvey CEO of Burgerville:

For more information on Nomad and Portland’s food cart scene:

Categories: Food Tags: , ,

Storm Large 8 Miles Wide Music Video

July 21, 2009 1 comment
Storm Large

Storm Large

As far as I’m concerned Storm Large deserves every ounce of success she’s achieved.  Storm has been a Portland institution for many years. She’s put in countless hours supporting almost every major fund raising event, appeared on almost every major stage and literally worked her ass off. The nation got a peek at her talent when she appeared on Rockstar Supernova a couple of years ago,  but like many of those ‘reality tv/music contest’ shows they overlooked true talent.  It’s only fitting that Storm find her second wind of notoriety and success here in Portland.

Storm’s  auto-biographical show “Crazy Enough” has been a run away hit at Portland Center Stage, selling out and getting extended month after month after month. They finally announced that it would have to end at some point because PCS needs the stage for their other shows (another venue has even been discussed for a continue of the run).

Now the music video for 8 Miles Wide has been released and it’s a thrill.  The video was  shot and edited by local Portland filmmaker James Westby (director of Film Geek and The Auteur) and produced by Katie O’ Grady.

Check out the 8 Miles Wide music video from Crazy Enough:

Here also is a great behind the scenes video:

In addition to her smash hit play and new video Storm also did the soundtrack for the upcoming Pander Brothers movie called Selfless which is getting a screening and its own panel later this week at ComicCon.

For more info on Storm Large:

Categories: Music Tags:

Ink comes to the Hollywood Theater July 24 with Whiffies After Party

INK at The Hollywood TheaterThe market for independent films has nearly collapsed over the past two years.  Big film fests like Sundance and Toronto haven’t yielded nearly the buzz or box office power as years past and big studios have shuttered many of their independent film arms. With the market changing so dramatically, many filmmakers are now pushing forward with their films instead of waiting and hoping for a studio to pick up their film for distribution.

Jamin and Kiowa Winans of Double Edge Films aren’t letting the rough indie market slow them down. These two Denver based filmmakers have taken to the road with their film INK building momentum for the film city by city. On Friday July 24th they bring INK to Portland for a one week run at the Hollywood Theater.

According to their press release INK is:

INK is a multi-layered allegorical tale of good, evil and the search for redemption packaged in highly unique visuals and a haunting score. Ain’t it Cool News has declared INK the new “it” movie and compares it to Donnie Darko, The Matrix, Dark City and Brazil.

Here’s the trailer:

While I haven’t seen the film yet (I plan on attending the premiere on Friday), I am quite impress with the look and style of the film in the preview and am eager to see the film.

Huge fans of Portland, the Winans wanted to do something unique for their film here so they’re doing an after party ‘tweetup’ at the Whiffies fried pie cart at SE 12th and Hawthorne following the film on Friday. Whiffies is commemorating this with a special deal where you get  2 whiffies fried pies for $5 when you show your INK ticket Stub.

Ink opens at the Hollywood Theater Friday July 24th at 7pm (with Q&A After) and then plays Saturday at 5:00pm & 9:10pm Sunday at 2:45pm & 7:00pm (with more showings through the following week).

You can purchase tickets online for INK (which is recommended for opening night as the film has sold out in many cities including when it played New York).

For more information on Ink:

Categories: Movies Tags:

Randy Couture Pictures

When we did our interview with Randy Couture for UFC 102 in Portland we had local photographer David Lawrence accompany us to take a few pictures of Randy Couture.

We were planning on using those pictures for our coverage of the fight UFC 102: Couture vs. Nogueira at the Rose Garden (Saturday, August 29th), but they turned out so amazing we just had to share them.

Randy Couture

Randy Couture | Photo: David Lawrence

Randy Couture's Hands

Randy Couture's Hands | Photo: David Lawrence

Randy Coture Profile Picture  | Photo: David Lawrence

Randy Coture Profile Picture | Photo: David Lawrence

We plan on bringing more coverage of UFC 102 in August.

Be sure to check out some of David Lawrence’s other MMA Action Pictures:

For more information on Randy Couture and UFC 102:

Categories: MMA Tags:

Bamboo Grove Salon Teahouse

July 16, 2009 3 comments
Bamboo Grove Salon

Bamboo Grove Salon

Portland is an ideal city for mixed use community spaces. There are so many unique and interesting groups that need homes for their activities.

Bamboo Grove Salon meets this need in a fascinating way.  Rather than being just a large open chasm, Bamboo Grove has built a cozy and intimate tea house and art gallery connected to their community space. This creates opportunities for some great parings: unwind after some Tai Chi with an oolong , sip some green tea while you learn Go from local Go Masters, or savor a nice herbal as you wait for your turn on group acupuncture night.

Bamboo Grove was created by Gabriel Weiss who, like the space, has a very varied background. Weiss is a stone mason and Chinese herbalist by trade. He worked at the Tao of Tea doing all the stone work for their former store on NW 21st and Hoyt. He also helps his wife who runs the pilates studio next door.  Weiss’s eclectic background is the perfect mix for the warm, charming and inviting space that is Bamboo Grove.

While the events and art gallery portion of Bamboo Grove Salon (including a letter press business called Zhu Lin) have been around a while, the tea house is a brand new addition. Rather than focusing on a menu filled with dozens of varieties of tea, Weiss opts for a very focused selection. “I’d rather serve just a few really good teas than a ton of tea,” Weiss commented. He’s got a fantastic source for tea as Bamboo Grove sits one story above the tea warehouse for the Tao of Tea, home to literally thousands of pounds of tea. “Some morning when we come in we can just smell tea”.

IMG_0963

$2 Gong Fu Tea!!!

Weiss is extremely talented at serving tea and he presents tea ordered in Gung-Fu style (a small clay pot and cups). This is how tea is traditionally served and the experience is light years beyond anything you can experience from a tea bag.  Since the tea part of Bamboo Grove is just starting, they’ve been working out their ordering process and it can be a little informal, but look for them to refine their offering as they grow.

One of the amazing things about Bamboo Grove is how well priced the tea is. We drank a nice oolong from Taiwan, gung-fu style, for $2. The exact same pot of tea served at the Tao of Tea would be $8. This could very well be the best deal on a beverage in Portland.

In addition to good tea served well, the space is warm, inviting and provides a nice oasis from the industrial neighborhood which surrounds it.

Bamboo Grove Salon is located on  134 SE Taylor (enter on SE 2nd). Tea is served Monday through Thursday from 1-9pm with other special tea events (Like GO and Tea Wednesday nights 7-10pm).  Phone: 971-207-8476

Categories: Tea Tags:

Randy Couture Interview – UFC 102

July 14, 2009 1 comment

Randy Couture is considered by many to be on of the greatest fighters in the UFC and is often credited with bringing the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) into the mainstream.

Randy Couture is a huge force behind bringing the Ultimate Fighting Champion to Portland as he fights Antonio Nogueira at UFC 102: Couture vs. Nogueira at the Rose Garden on Saturday, August 29th.

We interviewed Randy Coutre while he was in Portland for a pre-fight autograph session at the Rose Quarter. Coutre talks about bringing the UFC to Portland, his previous fight against Brock Lesnar,  if Fedor Emelianenko might finally fight with the UFC and what his strategy is against Antonio Nogueira.

Here is Part 1 of our Interview with Randy Couture:

Here is Part 2 of our Interview with Rand Couture:

UFC 102 Headliner Randy Couture will be signing autographs and taking pictures with his fans at the Rose Quarter Tuesday, July 14 at 7:00pm. This event is free and is open to the public.

For more information on UFC 102:

Categories: MMA Tags: , ,

American Idol 2009 Summer Tour – Portland Review

American Idols Live in Portland

American Idols Live in Portland

I had pretty realistic expectations going into the 2009 American Idols Live show on its first stop in Portland. Despite all the hype and hoopla, the reality is, these ten finalists are just at the beginnings of their careers. They’ve just crossed the threshold from semi-pro to the big leagues and this concert in Portland was their very first big arena show.

As a show I found it to be pretty choppy and extremely uneven. The staging was set up with a huge barrier between the audience and the performers. A stage which jetted out into the audience or a theater in the round set up, like they had with the Jonas Brothers, would have been a much better option. The evening was broken into two acts. The first one had performances from Michael Sarver, Megan Joy, Scott MacIntyre, Lil Rounds, Anoop Desai and Matt Giraud, followed by a group song featuring these six performers. The second act featured Allison Iraheta, Danny Gokey, Adam Lambert and Kris Allen, and then a finale song with all ten.

The only ‘coloring outside the lines’ came when Adam Lambert invited Allison Iraheta back up to do a duet of “Slowride”. Other than that, the evening was as programed as it could possibly get. Each Idol did grab the mic during their set for some banter but it was only Allison Iraheta who really connected with the audience. Others, like Danny Gokey, came off poorly and preachy. The show wasn’t about the Idols talking, it was about them singing, and for the most part each Idol represented pretty well.

Michael Sarver’s passion seemed to fill the gaps as he sang “I’m in Love with a Girl” by Gavin Degraw and “Closer” by Ne-Yo. He sported a white jacket with an enormous cross on it. His performance was fine and well within the line of an ‘opening act’.

Megan Joy came out with a much sexier look than we’ve seen for her, a bright pink dress and coiffed blond hair. Her rendition of Corrine Baily Rae’s “Put Your Records On” was pretty close to the performance she gave on the show. It didn’t win any new fans over, but it wasn’t bad. Unfortunately her rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own” didn’t come off as well and you could see why she’s been branded as one of the more ‘unlikeable’ Idols.

Of all the American Idols, Scott MacIntyre was the most improved from his performances on the show. He emerged from below the stage behind a grand piano. It was clear that behind the piano is Scott’s sweet spot. His rendition of Keane’s “Bend and Break” was sharp and he breathed new life into Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles”. I was disappointed that Scott only played two songs and would have liked to seen more from him.

Lil Rounds proved yet again that she can really sing, but something was missing from her performance. She opened with Mary J Blige’s “Be Without You” (a style she was constantly urged to sing during the show) but the audience didn’t seem to connect with it. Her rendition of Alicia Keys’s “No One” was solid, but sound alike and “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé had some great energy, but it seemed to fall apart at the end. Lil Rounds seemed mighty alone on that big stage and I think the show missed a huge opportunity to support her with some dancers. On “Single Ladies” she talked about working with a choreographer, but it ended up just being her strutting around the stage. If anything they could have brought the backup singers forward, or something so she didn’t seem so lost in the big space.

Anoop Desai was the first of the Idols to really connect with the crowd. A wave of flashbulbs fired off as he emerged from the center of the stage signing Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind”. Anoop was dressed in preppy/nerd chic and sported some thick rimmed glasses mid-way through the set. Anoop followed with “Mad” by Ne-Yo and then his signature “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown. Musically Anoop isn’t the strongest of the Idols – Lil Rounds vocally eclipsed him – but Anoop has a charisma and style that fills the stage. He never looked alone up there and seems to have some of the raw goods to become a star. His set wasn’t earth shattering but it was extremely entertaining.

Matt Giraud seemed to have something to prove, and he did that with his set. With a big stardom presence he was the first Idol to really get the crowd on their feet with The Black Crows “Hard to Handle”. He then slowed it down a bit with Ray Charles’s “Georgia”, which came off fairly well, although I really didn’t like the arrangement. Surprisingly Giraurd closed with “I Found You” by The Fray, which is odd because during the show the judges specifically indicated that it wasn’t the best song for him, and I have to agree.

The medley that followed was okay. Throughout the season the group numbers were never the real strong points. This time around it felt a little choppy and Idol versus Idol. A highlight of the duet was dueling pianos with Scott MacIntyre and Matt Giraud singing Billy Joel’s “Tell Her About It”. In that match up I enjoyed Scott’s performance more. The weakest pairing of the medley was Megan and Lil who didn’t sound good together at all.

What followed was an excruciatingly long, energy-sucking 20 minute intermission where we sat and listened to ads and music videos of past American Idol winners. The break wouldn’t have been so misplaced if they had some sort of fun or creative intermission video clips playing (like a retrospective on the show). It was an opportunity missed.

The second half started with a bang and Allison Iraheta made up for the energy suck of the intermission. She opened with an extremely energetic rendition of Pink’s “So What”. Allison played a few of the refrains on her guitar, but not well. She is so energetic and fun and I think she would have done better without the guitar. Allison continued with Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby” which was fantastic. As she let loose, she really showed a real comfort on the stage. At one point during “Cry Baby” she did really embody Joplin. It wasn’t a mimic or impression, but something much deeper. Her talk to the audience seemed to really connect and it showed a real presence and charisma. She closed her set with a fantastic performance of Heart’s “Barracuda”. I was disappointed that she only sang three songs. It was at this point I wished the show were the top 5 and not the top 10.

Of all the performances, I was most disappointed by Danny Gokey. I really like Gokey and enjoyed his performances on the show, but what worked on the small screen didn’t quite work as well on the big stage. Danny Gokey opened with Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” without any form of comment or tribute to the artist’s death. He followed on with Santana’s “Maria Maria” which had him dancing around seemingly having fun on stage, but it felt a little stiff and forced and he didn’t quite have the audience along with him. The highlight of his set was “What Hurts the Most” by Rascal Flatts; it was the only point in the set where I felt any genuine passion. Danny Gokey followed the song with an ‘inspirational’, “you can do anything, don’t let adversity get in your way” talk. It just didn’t connect, so when he went into Rascal Flatts “My Wish” I felt like I was at a bad Christian Rock concert.

Gokey was immediately forgotten after Adam Lambert’s explosive opening. The crowd went crazy as he belted out Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. A lot of the things that I felt didn’t work in Lambert’s performances on the small screen were the very things that made seeing him live in an arena so fantastic. His opening number was pure electricity and left absolutely no doubt that he’s a rock star. I was really shocked at just how amazing hearing Adam Lambert sing Zeppelin was. He followed with an extremely strong version of Muse’s “Starlight” and then slowed it down with “Mad World”. Although the live version of “Mad World” wasn’t as magical as on the show, it was still fantastic. He pulled the entire audience in with the song and showed how easily he could warp the tempo and tone on stage. Adam called Allison on stage and the two of them did Foghat’s “Slow Ride”. My son turned to me and said, “Isn’t that a song from Guitar Hero?!” (interesting how times have changed). Adam and Allison’s chemistry were fantastic and the song was spot on. Adam finished his set with a medley of David Bowie songs including “Life on Mars”, “Fame” and “Let’s Dance”. It was fun and playful, but I would have enjoyed more big rock like Queen or Kiss. Still, Lambert showed he’s the real deal and his performance was so strong, I’ll definitely make a point to see him when he returns on his own.

During Adam’s set it became pretty clear how limited the staging of the show was. “Whole Lotta Love” screamed for some sort of pyrotechnics and his melody of Bowie songs could have been a huge production number with dancers and effects. It was a huge opportunity lost and one of the most noticeable failings of the show as a whole.

Kris Allen emerged from the floor in the center of the stage to the screams of the fans. They dropped a curtain behind him and the rest of the band (an odd move) and he held silent with his acoustic guitar in hand, for just a little too long. What followed though was one of the highlights of the entire show. Allen performed Kanye West’s “Heartless” in a way that made it clear that he’s made it his own. The song sounded even better live and is the corner stone of Allen’s success. Kris Allen was pitch perfect with his performance of “No Boundaries”, which isn’t my favorite song, but Allen finds hooks in it to make it into something much more beautiful and strong than the source material. Allen’s emotion and connection to the audience peaked with “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. I think it’s Allen’s humble honesty in his performance that really wins the audience over. If Kris Allen came out with the ego of Matt Giraud I don’t think it would work nearly as well. Kris Allen went for the trifecta on Matchbox 20’s  “Bright Lights” singing, playing guitar and piano, a truly versatile performance. He closed his set with a fantastic performance of “Hey Jude”, with the other 9 Idols joining him for the end of the song.

The finale of the night was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, probably the best group effort I’ve seen. For one reason or another the song just ‘fits’ this group. There have been a lot of reports on how close the top 10 American Idol group is, but musically they really haven’t meshed well as a group, except for this song. It was a fantastic close to the show and a real highlight of the night.

As a complete show the 2009 American Idol’s Live Tour isn’t as strong as some of its parts. There are some serious shortcomings with how the show was staged. It was too formatted, overly programmed and lacking in some of the staging magic that could have transformed it into a much better show. The addition of a few dancers, some pyrotechnics and a little more stage pizazz would have gone a long way. I also think they could have dropped the twenty minute intermission in favor of a few more duets or sets which colored outside the lines. Also noticeably missing were any fun video clips or anything from the judges. It’s a clear opportunity missed not to have anything from any of the judges or even Ryan Seacrest on video saying “This is American Idol”.

Despite the production shortcomings the show was very enjoyable. Between Allison Iraheta’s energetic set, Adam Lambert’s jaw dropping Zeppelin and Kris Allen’s pitch perfect performance, there’s more than enough here to justifying seeing the show.

For more information about American Idol Live see:

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