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Richard Marx @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham (26/5/11)

posted 25 Jul 2011, 15:51 by Paul Woodward
Review by Woody

Photos by Paul Jasper

I’ve never been to the Symphony Hall before, given my taste in music it’s not very often bands I like would use a venue like this and it’s REALLY posh. The venue is obviously designed to cater for orchestral music and given its shape and lay out, also to maximise sound quality.  The layout of the venue also means no matter where you are you have a good view of the stage, the cavernous hall also has three tiers of balconies and tonight’s turnout is almost a sell out.

Up first tonight is John Parr best known for his film soundtrack work during the 80’s, which is why for many years I thought John was American, but he is very much an Englishman. He has been really quiet in the recording stakes over the past few decades but over the past few years he has been out and about doing support slots as a one man and his guitar act, so he’s very much ready for tonight’s solo show.

I can’t say I’m overly familiar with most of John’s songs other than the obvious big soundtrack hits which everyone in the world knows! But I was very much looking forward to seeing John perform having seeing him support, the Scorpions (well at least I think it was them) a while back at The Civic Hall in Wolverhampton.

Obviously the acoustics in this venue served John well, and his songs and his very impressive vocals came across magnificently. Also given the nature of the gig meant he could share some history of his songs and also have a bit of a laugh during his very relaxed and laid back trip through his hits.

I was shocked to learn the advert jingle “The Best A Man Can Get” is actually one of John’s songs, most people will remember the song from the Gillette Razor commercials. Although he expanded on the jingle to make a full song, which was wrote for and inspired by his Kids.  We also got his controversial American number one “Naughty, Naughty” & “At The Cathedral”.

John gave us the story behind his most famous song “St Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)”, which has absolutely nothing to do with the film. The song as John tells us was inspired by Rick Hanson who had been paralyzed from the waist down in a road accident and had decided to propel himself across America in his wheelchair to raise money for research and charity. John was moved by the news reel he’d seen and taking Rick’s campaign of “Man In Motion” wrote a song about him. This song obviously went down the best with the audience been such a well known and beloved song. An enjoyable set from John and I’m looking forward to seeing him again in September at The Robin.

Tonight’s audience wasn’t what I was expecting and turnout exceeded my expectations, I always think of Richard Marx as a rocker, albeit of the softer variety not as the man who did famous piano ballad “Right Here Waiting”. Although there were a few obvious rockers amongst the crowd, they were by far in the minority, tonight’s crowd was more veering towards middle aged Housewives who took every opportunity to flirt and shout at Richard. Not my usual crowd and the crowd reactions were far more polite and civilised than I’m used to – as my fellow MR scribe Dean Pedley said to me it’s not like JB’s is it –  and I have to say it’s absolutely nowt like JB’s!!!!

Tonight’s show is a very relaxed affair with Richard talking as much as performing, although we still get a very long set and it was definitely a value for money performance. The laid back approach to the show allowed Richard to garnish us with stories behind the songs and this made for very interesting listening. Also Richard’s humour came to the forefront and he’s a very funny guy, not only did this make the stories more interesting it also warmed the crowd to him. You could tell from the get go of this one man and his guitar show that Richard was trying to do an intimate show, although I think a smaller venue or at least a less cavernous venue would have helped him achieve the atmosphere he desired easier.

Richard’s set list was a collection of the hit’s so I very much doubt anyone in attendance was disappointed, I know I wasn’t. Even though I would have far preferred to have seen Richard with a full band in full on rock mode, I really enjoyed the show which highlighted what an insanely talented singer and songwriter this often overlooked guy is. His voice tonight was like CD quality, I kid you not, his distinctive low and moody vocals making a massive impression on us all and also proving he can cut it live with ease.

Amongst the set list we get “Endless Summer Nights”, “Keep Coming Back”, “The Way She Loves Me”, “Hold On To The Night”, “Now & Forever” & “Satisfied”. Oh I shouldn’t forget to mention on a few songs throughout the night he was joined by Steve Hornby playing on a grand piano.

I had quite a few highlights throughout a marvellous performance like “Take This Heart” & “Angelia” which we learn where the name came from and also it has absolutely nothing to do with the song, but the name just fitted the vocal melody on the chorus! Although I’m sure the flight attendant whom he took the name from is pleased about it!  We also learn that he believed whilst he was writing “Hazard” he thought it was shit and very nearly never recorded it. He was trying to write a song in the form of a story, but just couldn’t get it to work. His wife heard him playing the song and told him it would be a hit which he laughed at and he recorded the song just out of stubbornness to prove his wife wrong! The song went on to be one of his biggest hits, and probably his second most well known song in the UK.

He performed a new song “When You Loved Me” which went down incredibly well, and I really liked it apparently it’s getting lots of airplay in the US. A fantastic tune with an unforgettable chorus and melody.  Richard invites John onstage for a song they wrote together prior  to tonight’s show entitled “Brothers” and other than a few hiccups the song was pretty good and I think it went down well, it seems the pair have crossed paths many times over the years and seem to know each quite well and there is good chemistry between them.

“Through My Veins” is another highlight, an emotional tribute to his dad, which is followed by “Save Me” a song which see’s him playing to a backing tape of his three sons performing drums, guitars, keyboards. I understand why he did this and the meaning behind it, but I think it failed to have the impact he intended, just purely cause it was a backing tape and that “live” element was missing, good song nonetheless.

Richard’s desire for an intimate show was fully on show as he asks the sound guy to cut the power and he sits at the edge of the stage and performs a song and then moves in the crowd (which isn’t hard in all seated venue!) for another song without power the killer “When You’re Gone” from one of my favourite Marx albums “My Own Best Enemy”.

As a well respected songwriter you won’t be shocked to learn he’s written loads of songs for other famous artist’s. I know I’m forever stumbling across Marx tunes; it’s just a sign of what a quality songwriter he is. So he treats us to couple of songs made famous by others Keith Urban’s “Better Life” & N-Sync’s “This I Promise You”. Marx rounds his set off with the awesome “Should Have Known Better” and I think it was a great song to finish the main set with, a song that shows Marx off better than his more famous in the UK songs, in my opinion.

Richard took a short break and returned for an encore of “Don’t Mean Nothin’” and the song a good chunk of tonight audience are dying to hear “Right Here Waiting” which see’s Richard down guitar and take to the grand piano. It was the loudest reaction of the night and I even expected knickers to go flying through the air although as in keeping with the atmosphere tonight it was all quite polite and civilized.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening with Richard Marx, who didn’t disappoint in his choice of set list, his performance especially his stunning vocal quality and the humour and stories made for an entertaining evening. Although I do hope if he ever visits the UK again it’s a full on rock and roll show with a band!