The Austin summer…

…was brutal this year. We had something like eighty 100+ degree days, but it was all cool by me because I had a chance to bracket the hot, hot summer with two balmy evenings with Steve Tyrell. One back in May at the fabulous and intimate One World Theater here in Austin, and the other this past Friday night at the Stafford Centre — a great mid-size venue in Houston.

Steve was “on” right from the top, breaking the ice with a three song set from his first album, A New Standard. Before the audience (such as it was … we’ll get to that later) could catch a breath, the bluesy baritone Tyrell set the sage for the evening with signature versions of “World on a String”, “I Can’t Get Started with You” and “Sunny Side of the Street” … a great start to another top notch Tyrell performance experience. 

 You had to R&B There…

Always a proponent of R&B’s influence on the standards, Steve went there with his next few numbers. Starting with the title track to his upcoming album Taking A Chance On Love (due out Valentines Day 2012) and following with a simple but haunting version of Little Willie John’s “Talk to Me” … perfectly accented by Bob Mann’s jazz guitar and the percussive bass play of Lyman Medeiros. Maybe being back in his home town amped up Tyrell’s R&B passion … he performed “Talk to Me” back in May as well but this time ’round it really stood out as an impact song for the evening.

After an excellent and surprising performance of “At Last” — Etta James’ signature song and a semi rare offering from a male performer — Steve wandered through the main course of the evening with standards hits from Mercer, Cole Porter and Barcharach/Hal Davis… the most memorable of which were “Come Rain or Come Shine”, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, “Night and Day”,  “This Guy’s in Love With You” and “The Look of Love”.

Give Me The Real Thing…

A really exceptional rendition of “You’d be so Nice to Come Home To” was tainted somewhat by the synthetic strings from the keyboard/synthesizer. It was there on a few other songs during the evening but prevalent in this number and off-putting to me. Either give me strings or not, but leave the “Murph and the Magic-tones” synth in the truck. It’s like a fabulous chef subbing truffle oil (horrid chem-can smelling stuff) for real truffles.

Weird distracting strings aside, there’s never anything synthetic about Steve Tyrell’s performance. Though many of these numbers are stock and trade staples for ST, his performance always seems joyful and passionate … and that was absolutely the case on this evening. The guy just emotes genuine enjoyment and a trust in the material during his performances that infects the audience … at least a normal audience.

A Great Performance to a Mediocre Audience…

We had balcony box seats that offered a fabulous view of the stage and a likewise excellent view of the 2/3 empty room for the show … disappointing to say the least. After reading reviews of ST’s sold out tour stops in Chicago, LA and other venues, it was deflating to make my way to his home town and see only ~400 folks scattered around the 1,100 seat Stafford Centre. I don’t know if weak marketing was to blame, or the fact that game 7 of the world series was the same evening, but it was a low energy room to be sure.

Even worse than the light attendance … I was dumbfounded when people started walking out during Tyrell’s encore! I mean, come on — have you people ever been to a concert before?!

There was a longish line queued up to get autographs on their CD’s and such after the show so maybe folks were scrambling for a place in line but it was still weak to walk out while Tyrell was amping up for his encore. Steve went back to his first album for the encore with two fantastic versions from the top drawer of his catalog — “Give Me The Simple Life” and his signature: “The Way You Look Tonight”. The folks that left early are Losers.

Maybe I was spoiled by Steve’s earlier visit to Austin when he filled the more intimate One World Theater … on that May evening the audience energy was high and the passion on both sides of the equation palpable. This time around, Tyrell connected with the folks up front but nothing was really sustained. I can only hope the second show the following evening (Saturday the 29th) reflected a better home-town turn out for one of Houston’s most deserving and talented favorite sons.

Overall another great performance from Mr. Tyrell. I’m already looking forward to catching him again.