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Taylor Hicks in Greensburg: What Makes a Show Truly Great?

Text and photos contributed by Louise Uznanski who attended the Taylor Hicks show at the Palace Theater in Greensburg, PA on May 14th.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Taylor at the Hammond

Attending a string of shows in a short time span makes me wonder what makes a show a truly great show?  In the case of Taylor Hicks, who is on tour throughout the month of May, I have come to realize it is many of the things I see on stage that make a show great.  It is also the little things that make a show truly great and I hope to display them here in words and photos.

One contributor to a great show is the set list.  That list of songs that we see taped to the floor at each venue where Taylor performs.  The Greensburg show, held in the Palace Theater, was the second show in a line up of shows where change was the order of the week. From the time the band entered and Taylor took the cowbell out for Compared to What until the last note of Seven Mile Breakdown and every song in between, the audience did all they could do to keep up with the changes in songs, the tags and the dancing of the star on stage.  Tagging Tightrope and Back in the High Life into What’s Right is Right brought the old classics back to mix with the new country rock original tune from The Distance.

Compared to What.

The Maze, re-introduced at the Pitman, New Jersey show was tagged with Get Your Gloves and Hat. Cool jazz in a hot number was followed by the crowd favorite Soul Thing.  Not one to rest on laurels of a good song choice, Taylor tagged Soul Thing with Eastbound and Down.

The Maze

Soul Thing

My City was Gone brought tears to the eyes of the audience.  Such heartbreaking devastation in Taylor’s home stage of Alabama that the back and forth of Taylor and Jeff Lopez on sax made Taylor smile through the whole song.  It was breathtaking.

Taylor Lights up the stage with a smile

The set list mixed harp, piano solos, sax solos and lots of guitar from Sam Gunderson.

Hot harp

What makes this show great?  Part of the answer lies in the set list and the way it is performed.  With feeling. With passion.  With the heart.

Perhaps what makes a show great is the individual contributions of the band and the headliner.

Brian Less

Maybe it’s Brian Less who plays the dual role of keyboardist and musical director. Always calm on the outside and whirling around on the inside with a million details that must all strike in the right manner to make each show unforgettable.

Taylor and Brian Less

Perhaps it’s the knowledge that your long time friend always is there and has your back.  Taylor is being mentored by Brian on the organ and that combination has made the headliner more versatile and in turn, this makes the show even better.

Could it be the lasting friendships from the Iron City where these musicians have played together off and on for many years that makes a show great?  Jeff Lopez uses the moniker ‘spiritual sax.’ Spiritual he is and lends an almost karma-like feeling to the lead up to the opening number.  Being spiritual has to be a good thing because it has made the shows something to look forward to.

Spiritual sax Jeff Lopez

Guitars make a show great, right?  Yes, if they come in the form of Sam Gunderson. Last year’s tour found Sam on lead guitar with solos each night.  Growing into the lead guitar role on the tour made him many fans. Sam does not dance around the stage or play two guitars at once so his solos, especially on Battlefield, have been distinctive and memorable.

Sam Gunderson

Percussion makes your heart go thump in the night.  Leif Bondarenko makes a lot of hearts go thump.  So strong and persuasive on the skins, Leif is never forgotten as he plies his trade in the center rear of the stage. What would a band be without drums?  It would not be a band.  What would Taylor Hicks’ band be without Leif? Not something I care to think about.  Leif is the real deal and that’s what makes the thumping heart of the band work.

Leif Bondarenko

Losing a band member like Taylor’s band did with the loss of Matt Kimbrall shakes men to the core.  Matt was a seasoned, well-regarded conga player whose time with the band was too short.  Enter David Keith.  If immediate impact on a tight knit unit is any indication of what makes a band great, then David Keith has made his presence known.  Constantly in tune with Taylor and Leif, David mixes the sound like he was born with the band.

David Keith with Taylor

Brandon Peeples

Can a bass player make a show more interesting, more entertaining? With Brandon Peeples, these things are possible.  It makes the audience feel they have a whole variety of sounds to listen to especially when Brandon branches out and plays the upright bass. Versatility can make a show better. Blending that versatility into a seasoned group of veteran musicians is one cylinder that makes the engine hum.

No show, no band gets on the stage alone.  Behind every successful show is a dedicated person who does what is needed to make sure the show goes on.  Clay Connor is such a person.  The following photo made my heart sing to see Taylor put his hand on Clay’s back and say ‘we’ve been working together for 15 years and he’s my friend’ as Clay set up the acoustic set. What a moment captured in time.

Clay Connor

The headliner has a lot resting on his shoulders.  He or she can make a show just so-so or they can make it monumental.  Taylor Hicks has to be seen live and on stage.  Turning a cover into his own is what makes Taylor’s shows great.  Tagging his own original songs with Running on Empty and Valley Road makes his shows truly great. An old soul who can mix the old with the new whether it is band members or songs makes the show experience so great it makes the fans committed to not missing a show.

What would it take for any fan to repeatedly go to see a band and it’s leader over and over?  Because truly great shows start with the music, the band members and the headliner and end with the joy of entertainment we find in each of every man in the band.

And this brings me to the ‘headliner’ and leader of the band, Taylor Hicks.  A passionate man, funny and talented who appreciates his friends and bandmates and his fans.  What is it about him that makes a show great?

Is it the dancing??

Standing straight at the mic?

Getting into the music??

Playing the guitar on 19??

Expressing deeply during Maybe You Should??

Or lost in the music with his two best friends??

Taylor alone?

Or, is it just a man, alone on a stage with no guitar, no harp who wanted his voice heard and brought his friends and his fans with him every night to make his show a truly great show each and every night?



9 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think that the great show is the one that lingers on in my memory, the show that I revisit now and again in my mind, savoring the small details of how the songs were played and delivered. I agree with you that it’s not one, but a combination of factors that result in the “best”.

    This write-up is one of the best, too, Louise. Thank you for all the thought that went into your writing, and for the exquisite photos as well!

    May 18, 2011
  2. jonibug #

    Yes, Louise…one of your best articles. I always hear the questions…”Why do you go to so many shows?” or “You’ve HEARD all of his songs, why keep going back?” As we know…most people don’t GET IT but I think you explained it as well as anyone can and I thank you for that! Yep, I’m forwarding it to a few people! Pictures are fab, as usual.

    May 18, 2011
  3. Judith Morton #

    Thank you Louise for your insightful article. Taylor and his band are very unique and your pictures and words tell a great story. Love your writing and photos.!! The best!

    May 19, 2011
  4. Rhonda #

    Thanks girl. You have it down really well and expressed so succinctly. I deeply appreciate your efforts on this blog-and macpolski as well. You two are a great team!!

    May 19, 2011
  5. Carol #

    Wonderful article and pictures, two great teams, Taylor and the band,and Louise and Mac. Thank you for all you do.

    May 19, 2011
  6. Louise #

    Thank you all. Such a great night at the Palace. I was so privileged to be there for this show and the others I went to. Each one was unique but the Palace stage was nice and big so Taylor and his band could make the most of it.
    City Winery will be up soon. Another classic!

    Thanks again. 🙂

    May 19, 2011
  7. Great review for a great preformer–the pics are cool too!!Junebug

    May 19, 2011
  8. tishtx #

    The last photo and the last paragraph does it for me. Thanks for another great recap and wonderful photos. This means so much to those of us that aren’t able to travel to all of Taylor’s concerts.

    May 19, 2011
  9. chill #

    It’s all of the above! Now I’m all revved up and ready to see him on Sunday! Many thanks for all the video and pictures everyone has brought back to share from this tour.

    May 22, 2011

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