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Friday, November 23, 2007

A Joyful Noise 2004 Review By Dianne Austin - A Wonderful Memory of That First Tour

I love looking back and remembering good times gone by. Christmas holds some of my favorite memories. So when I found this review by Dianne Austin of Clay's first Joyful Noise Tour, I just had to share it with all of you. I had forgotten that he had to postpone his first three concerts because of illness. But as Clay never wants to disappoint his fans, he simply put them at the end of the concert giving his California fans something to look forward to.

I hope that somewhere in this review you'll find some memory that will be stirred inside of you. For the most part, I believe it reminds us of the joy that Clay brings to all of us when he uses that glorious voice, that gift from God, to shower us with love and inspiration. Be sure to check out Scarlett's Good News Video at the end of the review.

Joyful Noise--The Beginning (Costa Mesa, CA) and The Beginning of The End (Pasadena, CA)--A Clay Aiken Christmas Tour

First of all, I must comment that it was fitting and oh-so-satisfying to have Clay Aiken's Christmas tour begin and end in California. Granted, he and his team may not have originally planned it that way, but because of illness and bruised vocal chords, the first three scheduled concerts were postponed until the end of the tour.

So, the fourth became the first (in Costa Mesa, CA) and the first became one of the last, which took place last week in Pasadena, CA.

Why is it fitting and satisfying? Because I had the opportunity to see both and it was satisfying to watch a performer grow and develop with a show, knowing that he is not only instrumental in his own growth as a vocalist, but also in the production and orchestration of the entire event. Now that he has been able to add the title 'Executive Producer' to his entertainment resume (A Clay Aiken Christmas, NBC), it’s certain that he is becoming more involved with the staging and production of his live concerts as well. Much satisfaction can be gleaned from seeing the evolution take place from beginning to end, which comes, I'm sure, not only to the spectator, but to the people who produce it as well.

And fitting. Why? Well, perhaps it’s because I still have a slight chip on my shoulder that isn't healing well due to Clay Aiken's last tour wherein no venues in the vast state of California were scheduled. That's right--not a one. Therefore, whether it was planned that way or not, it still has something to do with a kind of sweet destiny that this tour should begin and end in the great state of California, don't you think?

It was exciting to attend the first concert of the Christmas tour right after Thanksgiving at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the Christmas season than to hear Clay singing the songs we love most. Besides that, the venue is particularly beautiful because of its unusual interior design, modern architecture and yuletide decorations.

The crowd looked festive as they streamed in dressed in their holiday best, and this set the tone for a very classy evening. I got there later than expected, so there was no time to mingle in the lobby beforehand. After I took my seat I noticed there was a little time to spare. After meeting and talking with friends behind me I saw Ms. Parker there just a few rows ahead waiting to see her son perform on this premiere night of the JNT. It made sense, since she had traveled from Raleigh to spend Thanksgiving with Clay, accompanied by her younger son Brett, who had been on leave from his own “tour” at the time. Faye was glowing that night and looked the picture of happiness sitting beside Brett. I had the pleasure of speaking with her before the concert and she told me about their Thanksgiving. Must have been 'fun' cooking for thirty, but if anyone could handle it, I’m sure it would be this little lady—the southern belle from Raleigh, NC.

Although the achingly beautiful voice was there, Clay showed a bit of strain in a couple of spots during the first half of the show. It was apparent that the effects of the illness had not disappeared completely. He also showed a little hesitation with the verbal part of his program, and it was not evident if this was due to it being first time jitters, or perhaps that he was not quite at the top of his game due to recovering from the “bug”. But that aside, it didn’t interfere much with our enjoyment of his performance because despite just a few inconsistencies, he pulled it off in his inimitable way.

Being the perfectionist he is, it seemed that Clay wanted to make up for the aforementioned discrepancies that came up during the early part of the show. The second half contained the more difficult, serious and intense songs, and this is where Clay took off and blew his audience away.

We were mesmerized with “Oh Holy Night”, “Mary Did You Know?” and “Don’t Save it All For Christmas Day”. Clay didn’t miss a beat or a note, and he poured himself into his vocals for the entire set. I know I’m not the first to notice that something happens to Clay when he sings a religious song. There’s a kind of reverie that goes on which enraptures those who are watching. He seems to separate from the audience and engage elsewhere for the time he’s singing. Usually, this kind of separation would lose an audience for any other performer, but with Aiken, it's kind of strange--as he goes somewhere else, he pulls us in even more. It’s an other-worldly experience that he allows us to be witness to.

The use of the local choirs and young children reading passages from the bible brought us back down to our earthly parameters however, and it was the right touch for an Aiken family Christmas concert. Clay always stresses his desire to employ and support 'every' kid--from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and that rang true when we got to watch the children on stage perform with him. It was also perfect since Christmas is about kids--who else could bring out more joy with the season?

I actually would have liked to see him engage more with the kids. Clay's gift in that area has not yet been tapped into when it comes to his performances. Why not have him combine his ability to talk, teach and elicit, even off the cuff, in one of his shows? I expected to see him sit in a big, comfy chair with kids all around on pillows, listening to a story/song he tells and sings while they join in. Hope he takes that idea and runs with it for the next Christmas tour.

Sadly, I was really taken by surprise by the encore of the evening, 'Good News'. I didn't like it at all. It seemed overly staged (or perhaps just the opposite, I couldn't tell which) stilted and uninspired. Of course, I had no familiarity with the song, and perhaps that had something to do with it. But it just seemed to be tacked on at the end, when what we really needed was a rousing rendition of something that would leave the audience with an exhilarated but satisfied feeling. I was a bit disappointed. But read on, because as it turns out, there's good news about 'Good News' for Pasadena.

Long before we ever made it to the encore in Pasadena, however, there was the rush into the Civic Auditorium in a downpour of rain. I'm here to tell you, it was raining cats and dogs that night. We had just enjoyed a wonderful dinner at PF Changs, and then had to high-tail it across the street to the concert venue. I had left my umbrella in the car (what was I thinking?) and had to share one on either side of me with friends, inching our way across the flooded boulevard. Needless to say, I got soaked from head to toe anyway. As we strode in to one side of the theater, with wind, rain and disgruntled women in tow, Jerome, Clay's bodyguard, was there to welcome us and make us feel safe and warm (if not to giggle a little to himself at the state of our presentation). Aside from how we knew we looked, it was nice to be greeted with a smile from the large, charming man.

We primped in the lounge, mingled, and went to find our seats. The star's voice was heard well before we ever saw the lanky body or spikey head. Then he appeared, and proceeded to take us on a Clay Aiken sleigh ride we won't soon forget.

The first act was memorable. Clay was in great voice-- no strains, cracks or breaks, and with beautiful form. He was relaxed, remembering the right lines but sometimes winging it and making that work, moving fluidly--waltzing, bouncing, striding with hand in pocket, and a lovely surprise--an adorable little tap dance at the end of (wouldn't you know it?) 'Sleigh Ride'.

He was bursting at the seams, wanting to break out of the Christmas format and rip it up, I’m thinking--and the audience was egging him on. By the end of this act, which was marking a proximity to the end of this tour, it is my belief that Clay was done with Christmas (after all, it WAS December 28th, for gosh sakes) and this young man seemed ready to move on.

But that didn’t affect his ability to continue to sell the message he was there to bring--the message of Christmas. He soared in the second act with “Mary Did You Know?”, “Oh Holy Night” and “Merry Christmas With Love”. His delivery of the most traditional carol of all--“Silent Night” was the sweetest rendition one could ever hope to hear. We were yelling, standing and applauding every step of the way and our hearts and souls were full by the end of “Don’t Save It All”. If it had ended with that, we could have gone home quite spent.

But it didn’t end with that, because there was “Good News”.

And it was just that sort of news the encore turned out to be this time. What happened? I'm not quite sure, but it was worlds apart from the first one. This time he delivered it and he had something to say. It was full of soul, hope and prophetic expression. The staging hadn't changed much--he just stood still at stage right and sang. The spotlight came on and off each time he sang the title words. The difference this time might have been his hand and arm movements--he seemed to be ministering to us. His face was full of expression. At the end of the song his head tilted back, and his eyes looked up to heaven. Although he wore an austere black suit, he still reminded me of the little drummer boy because the tips of his ears peeked through his hair. Clay stood there and looked like a waif at the side of the anger on that strange, beautiful and holy night--a messenger of God proclaiming that man now had something to be truly joyful about.

And we were.

Then the spotlight went out, but there was a light that would not be extinguished. The Joyful Noise Tour may have been drawing to a close, but there was a feeling that would linger.

Aiken had done it again.

Editor: Michelle Arce
Dianne Austin is a free lance entertainment writer.
From YouTube: Good News - This is Scarlett's partial Good News video from the final Joyful Noise concert tour. December 30, 2004, El Cajon California.


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