Taylor Hicks Tour: Taylor Hicks & Vinyl Blues
Part 1 of 3 will cover the Vinyl Music Hall show: Text and photos graciously provided by Louise/4Tay. Click on images to enlarge.
From the opening notes of Compared to What to the closing sounds of Bulletproof and the dancing that went along with it, Taylor Hicks’ Vinyl Music Hall show gave the fans the impression that this tour would infuse something new. But, what would it be? Country music that Taylor has stated he is going to Nashville to record? Southern rock with a side of soul? Or perhaps something that had been there all along, and we would need to look deeper into each show to discover what was different? Taylor always keeps you guessing and the Pensacola venue was the springboard to what would be the newest phrase coined in the career of Taylor Hicks. (More on that phrase in Pt. 2, Gold Strike Casino)
Taylor enters the stage to pianist Brian Less’ drawn-out introduction- all the way from Birmingham, Alabama, Mr. Tay……lor Hicks……….. Enter the soulman, cowbell in hand. We’re thinking, hmmm… cowbell. Haven’t seen that in a while. And, he’s opening with Compared to What? Already two new twists and he hasn’t been on stage for more than a minute.
The crowd is packed at the stage railing and the front row is no more than two feet from the stage. It is not a big stage and it is packed with guitars, drum sets, a drum shield, congas, organ, piano, a bank of saxophones, mics for the bass player and all the musicians. Looking to my right from my spot at the stage, I recognized some familiar faces but many more of the faces were new to me. Young and old alike gathered up to the stage, almost filling the open space. Bar height tables were scattered at the back of the venue as well as bar stools at the huge VIP bar to the right side of the venue as you walked in. We waited a long time in line outside and listened to the comments of the people walking up to get tickets. The talk centered around comments such as “wow, Taylor Hicks is going to be here tonight” all the way to “I wouldn’t miss him if he’s in Florida”.
The band consisted of the Sam Gunderson on guitar, Brian Less on keyboards, Jeff Lopez on saxophones, Leif Bondarenko on drums, Brandon Peeples on bass and a new member of the entourage, David Keith on congas. They all looked ready to tear the roof off and give us our little surprise package one song at a time. Sam brought the house down on Battlefield. Leif made my chest pound on the RunAround. Brian played a new piano intro on the RunAround and riffed back and forth with Taylor on harp on Seven Mile Breakdown. Jeff received a well-deserved ovation for his Dixie tag in Nineteen. Brandon jived on bass alternating with Taylor and Brian. David Keith was more animated than any conga player we’ve ever seen. And, you could hear he was GOOD!
We had finally gotten accustomed to little surprises when Taylor broke into What’s Right is Right. Mixing ‘there I go, there I go’ with harp, Taylor started to build the blues. It became apparent when he got to the RunAround, the blues infusion was the ace up his sleeve. Little did we know that the next night, a shouted comment from a man in the audience who perhaps spent more than a few happy hours at the bar (more on the comment he made will be in Pt. 2), the blues volume would be cranked up to fever pitch by the time the Gold Strike Casino and Beau Rivage shows were over.
Few things in life are as joyful as a surprise. What we were witnessing next could not have been more powerful. Taylor moves over to Brian’s piano stool and sits down facing the organ. Brian is standing behind him and we do not know what to think. First, it’s Brian’s birthday and Taylor gives a shout out to Brian and we sing Happy Birthday with one eye on Taylor and a happy song in our hearts for Brian. But, we are still watching Taylor. Watching, watching and then he places his hands on the organ and explains the song he is about to deliver on that instrument. Oh, glory be! What is more bluesy and soulful than Taylor taking you to church on that organ’s notes? It was masterful. He looked in command and confident and the chords were played without a misstep. The song, Why Can’t We Live Together rang true and carried a message that Taylor is trying to convey using his art and craft. For the fans, this one song would be what was talked about all night and the next day. And for good reason!
There was no recovery for the faint of heart after seeing Taylor perched over the organ and playing so skillfully but, the fans did try. Taylor and the band left the stage after an eleven minute version of Seven Mile Breakdown. Tagging Running on Empty into the song proved later that running on empty would become a theme for these three days as the band, the fans and listeners at home ran to each city and venue to see and hear what would happen next. The harp playing and riffing with Brian on this number made it one of the best versions of this song heard for a long time.
The business side of Taylor Hicks came as no surprise but the new T-shirt he was sporting did! As Taylor says when he enters the stage in new digs, ‘Direct Marketing, baby.’ The shirt is the same design as the summer T-shirt with a loden green/gray background. Nice and soft and easy on the eyes, the shirt is a winner!
Taylor chose Bulletproof as the encore and that ended the night to the delight of everyone there. Looking around the audience of new fans, they were singing along and knew the words. Taylor was hip, Taylor was cool. He left the stage dancing to a Gerry Rafferty tag played by Jeff on the sax. Taylor got them in the palm of his hands all night and squeezed tight until it was time to bring them back down to earth as he left the stage.
We made our way from the stage and over to the box office area where Taylor was signing CD’s. He was happy, friendly and had a long, long line of fans. If these fans could all travel to Tunica, Mississippi for the next show, I am sure they would see that the blues is alive and well and on it’s way to Mississippi.
Kudos to Vinyl Music Hall for state of the art sound mixing. It was the best of the three shows, in my opinion. And the facility is stellar on a quaint Florida main street in Pensacola.
Come back and visit this site soon for the continuing story and photos from Gold Strike Casino and Beau Rivage. It gets better and better! Taylor always does.