Thursday night WC endured the 96° F heat and scorching sunlight of a Boise summer evening to attend an outdoor concert at Outlaw Field in the Idaho Botanical Garden.1 WC had never seen Phillip Phillips, the 2011 American Idol winner, before. WC doesn’t watch American Idol; truthfully, WC had never heard of Phillip Phillips prior to the concert announcement. But WC is getting ahead of the story.
The traffic is infamously terrible to and from these concerts, so WC and Mrs. WC bicycle to the venue, lawn chairs strapped to our bicycles. It’s a little over three miles, and, while WC has never bicycled in a sauna, it felt pretty much like you’d imagine bicycling through a sauna. You aren’t permitted to bring beverages in; the claim is that distilled liquor can’t be permitted. The reality is likely that it might interfere with the booming sales by the on-site vendors. Tepid water was available for free.
This was WC’s second concert at Outlaw Field; the first was the Paul Simon concert which went well but management was ill-equipped to deal with the big crowds. They did better this time.
There were two opening acts.
The first was A Great Big World. Think New York garage band influenced by Mumford & Sons. The horn player on their cover of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” was pretty good. The band was okay but not worth being parboiled by the Idaho sun.
The second opening act was Matt Nathanson, another artist WC had never heard of. He’s actually pretty good, and his backing band wasn’t bad. Nathanson is very good at getting and keeping his audience involved, even as they suffered heatstroke. In particular, his walk through the crowd during the performance of “Headphone” was a nice touch.
And then, as the sun finally started to set and the temperature droppped into the high 80s, we saw Philip Philips.
The guy has talent, no question. His songwriting is okay, not inspired but maybe average, if there is such a thing. But the concert was like an exercise in pop music. A hard rock song, a pop song, a ballad, a call-and-response song, a blues song and a funk song. And he closed with a jam between his horn player and his lead guitarist. Each song – they were all his own songs – was like a classroom exercise, and through the whole concert it felt like Philips was pressing. WC was at a late period Huey Lewis and the News concert, when Lewis was just trying too hard, a 60-plus year old guy trying to act mid-20s. Philips seemed to WC to be pressing, in a different way but pressing nonetheless. Matt Nathanson, likely with less singing talent, seemed to be a lot more comfortable on stage.
The ageless Tom Russell, at a show some years back, told the crowd that singer/songwriter Ian Tyson taught him to fill in any parts where he couldn’t come up with a lyric with either an “Ay-ay-ay” or yodeling, depending on your audience. Too many of Phillips’ songs uses Tyson’s technique.
Maybe WC is just getting too old to appreciate young artists. Or maybe WC’s brain was baked earlier in the evening and by the time Phillips took the stage WC’s music appreciation had been baked into a small, hard raisin.
A show would have had to have been pretty good to justify the stifling heat. Matt Nathanson came close. Phillips? Not so much.
The bike ride home, in late twilight and low 80s, was pretty comfortable. WC only had to stop once to guzzle more water.
- Boise is located at the westerly edge of the Mountain Time Zone. As a result, even though Boise is at 45° N Latitude, the sun doesn’t set until well after 9 PM. The heat persists late into the day. ↩