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Live review: Faith Hill at the Hollywood Bowl

“Dawg! When you hit that high note -- 'That’s the the way that love’s sup-POSE-ed to be' -- THAT was the Faith we’ve come to know and love throughout this competition. That was hot -- you ARE the next American Idol!!”

Oh, that’s right -- Faith Hill got the jump on "American Idol" long ago. Yet it was tough Friday not to keep watching from the wings during the opening of her two-night stand at the Hollywood Bowl expecting Randy Jackson or Paula Abdul to pop out and give her a standing ovation.

She’s everything “AI” contestants strive to be: outwardly humble, vocally unrestrained, temperamentally not too hot, not too cold. Hill’s the diva for people who don’t like divas, so even-keeled there’s never a hint of the kind of distracting quirk that can come with a Whitney, Celine, Madonna or even a Kelly.

On Friday, that meant despite the added forces of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra behind her six-piece band and three backup singers, there was a striking shortage of musical electricity during the 65 minutes she was onstage.

Not a shortage of volume or sonic density given close to 100 musicians were there with her. But Hill’s music studiously avoids any sort of dynamic tension or thematic ambiguity that might give listeners a second thought. Or at times even a first one.

She noted that it was her first show of the year, outside of the performance she gave in January for the inauguration of President Obama. If her country-star hubby, Tim McGraw, ever makes a White House run, she’ll be the kind of first lady who never causes so much as a ripple of controversy: polite, gracious and not a rebellious bone in her fashion model body.

It’s also the formula for a singer who’s interested in hits, not one who’s particularly motivated to plumb the mysteries of the human heart, mind and soul. She introduced “Paris,” from her 2005 album “Fireflies,” as one of the most beautiful songs she’s ever sung, and true enough, this wistful ballad has a gorgeous melody whose appeal to a vocalist is a no-brainer.

But it’s one of those romantic cheats that too easily promise things the singer isn’t empowered to give:

I’d give this world to you
Every rock and every stone
Every masterpiece in Rome
But tonight I can’t give you Paris.

Even ignoring the fuzzy logic in Gordie Sampson, Troy Verges and Blair Daly’s lyric, there was none of the full-throttle passion that Texan Joe Ely pumped into “For Your Love,” a far superior examination of the lengths to which love can drive someone. That’s the kind of committed delivery it takes to makes you want to believe such over-the-top vows even when you know they’re beyond the reach of mortal beings.

It’s the same problem Hill ran into with “Mississippi Girl,” a song from the same album, which came after her pop-minded “Cry” album had country fans grousing that she’d turned her back on her roots. Eager to prove them wrong, she sang, “A Mississippi girl don’t change her ways,” sounding anything but credible as she belted it in her designer floral gown under a hair and makeup job that cost more than most of her fans’ cars.

She’s sold nearly 20 million albums in the U.S. in the last decade and a half, and not without reason: She has a versatile pop-soul voice that can go admirably gospel when she wants, as in her medley that saluted Aretha Franklin by stitching together “Dr. Feelgood” and her arrangement of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

But long before those nefarious two other Simons (Fuller and Cowell) started inflicting their vision of what music should be on the world, Hill opted to devote herself to pull-no-punches verses and overblown choruses,  giving discerning listeners only fleeting glimpses -- as on her impressively tender 1999 recording of Bruce Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind” -- into what artistic heart might reside behind those giant killer vocal cords.

Hill's conductor and orchestral arranger, David Campbell, occupied the first half with a refreshingly diverse program of music by Leonard Bernstein, Bernard Herrmann, Elliot Goldenthal and Ottorino Respighi and one selection from a musical he and his wife, Raven Kane Campbell, are working up.

-- Randy Lewis

Comments () | Archives (9)

I have never understood reviews like this: you're so petty and hateful that there's really nothing helpful in way of how the concert actually was received. You seem upset she's talented and beautiful and is a singer. Jealous? Get a life and get a job you're good at-- go Faith go! I can't wait to see her tonight.

As my friend Kurt advised when he heard we were going to the Bowl to hear Faith, She has a "Set of Pipes". We heartily agree. Ok, I admit the country,pop, soul, rock formula backed by by a symphony isn't my "cup of music".

Fair warning, before she sang her covers, Faith stated she "owned" them for the night.
I wasn't quite prepared for the polite, structured, polished Diva's attempt to cross the musical chasm into Janis Joplin's turf of, Piece of my Heart. Only Janis could bring it to the people in her own throaty, whiskey soaked and emotionally tortured soul's voice. No translation here.

It didn't work for me, with the gown and the jewelry and the hairspray but the audience came to hear her, not nay sayers. The true believers !! But really, what does Faith's troubled waters look like, much less her bridge?

I think the Randy Lewis review is accurate and informative..... even gentle. Joe apparently wasn't even there last night to be one of the few drunken swaying fools cheering Faith on. I couldn't agree more with Mark about her big mistake of doing a Janis Joplin number so disastrously. All in all, it was a tepid performance that got a well deserved tepid public reception.

I, too, find reviews like this frustrating. I understand there are a great deal of music lovers who are passionate about the song and the story and emotion behind it. But there are also a great number of us out there who just love to listen to someone with a beautiful voice belting it out. Does that make us any less of a music fan? Or the artists who simply enjoy sharing their vocal talents any less of a musician? The wonderful thing about the world of music is there is something out there for everyone. Faith put on an amazing show last night. I think we all agree that that girl can sing, and I for one feel that her voice was tailor made to be backed up by a full orchestra.

I have heard Faith's music on the radio and also watched her in a combination show with other artists and I always enjoyed the way she sang. What I didn't see was that relaxed performer last night. She almost seemed to be out of her element. Please don't get me wrong. She is a worthy performer from the word go, but at the Hollywood Bowl last night... something was wrong. Mr. Lewis mentioned Ms. Hills' outfit and hair. He wasn't the only one wondering why Ms. Hill wasn't a bit less formal and more to what we have seen before in other venues.

The evening started out with the director Mr. Carroll bringing the audience down below the line of sight of stage. The best example of what I mean was when Mr. Carroll completed his portion of the near twenty-five minute section, he walked off the stage and NO ONE APPLAUDED. The other musical charts he directed kept the audiences talking and eating and wondering...why. The first portion of last night's concert didn't grab the audience, because after the first score by Leonard Bernstein, we were all lost trying to figure out why we were listening to background music. You cannot tap your feet to that type of music and hey... it wasn't even country! The orchestration was great, his work was excellent. No one knew how this was to bring them up to a crescendo. At exactly 9:08 p.m. he walked off acknowledging the Faith Hill was going to bring us up to the stars. Now, we're going to hear what we came here to see and enjoy.

Again, Ms. Hill is a fine country singer and an excellent performer. Why would she allow the camera's to shoot "belly shots" of her throughout the show. Why Hollywood Bowl couldn't afford a wireless mic for Ms. Hill. She walked around with the corded mic limiting her presentation and dropping off the lighted areas. Then, she stayed nearly glued to the mic stand. Why after nearly every song, she turn her back to the audience and the lighting crew gave her a "blackout". Each time she was placed into the dark, it took a just a little more time to get the audience back with her and yet... she kept doing it. This was not a cabaret stage, but if it were this might have worked. If truth be told, her rendition of the "Paris" song was a great song, but not as a closing. If she sang one of her signature songs like "This Kiss" as a closing, the audience would have remembered the night as a 100% success. Instead we all watched this dedicated singer nearly run off the stage along with her band leaving the audience to wonder why they felt they were left a little taken. As I said from the start, Faith Hill is a performer par excel lance, possibly the show we all saw on Friday needed a little tuning up in the presentation (and there wasn't time..do't really know). The show didn't build, it staggered. That was the show that was at the Hollywood Bowl last night and most likely again tonight. The producer might be consider a different arrangement of Ms. Hill's music for the rest of her tour... or maybe not. Possibly, what is termed a third eye (and ear) could step in and suggest how to make us "Get off our seats and move with the music" opps... I meant "Git". Faith Hill has a great voice range. She made Janis proud with her rendition last night. Now, someone in the know needs to make us stand up and applaud the next time she comes to the Bowl. Please....

I am sorry, the Conductor was David Campbell. Sorry.

i went to the faith hill concert friday night at the hollywood bowl, what a waste of time and money,i like faith hill, i expected a great show and all i got was ripped off.the first 45 mins almost put me to sleep.then we start to get excited when faith comes on,but what a big let down, she only sings for an hour and no encores,i spent over 100.00 a ticket for an hour of music, what a rip off.just another performer ripping off the fans,i lost all respect for her that night.

michael griffith

Im baffled by this blog and don't know where to start. Personally, i was at the show and found it throughly refreshing and beautiful. Im not exactly sure where to start when it comes to refuting your comments, but i am comforted in the fact that any other person that attended the show will immidiatley know that your blog is disrespectful and false in every since of the word. The thing that makes me boil the most about this dry, evil blog is how Lewis remarks about Faith's dress and hair/makeup job costs more than most of her fans cars. Its with the orchestra.... what the do you expect? Would Lewis prefer she wears jeans and a t-shirt? Luckily no one in the music buisness respects this airheads views enough to take his comment into consideration.
I would just like to say, Lewis makes himself look like a pessimistic, uneducated jerk.

I wasn't able to attend the Hollywood Bowl; however, based on the comments, it sounds like this show was much like the taping of PBS Soundstage that I attended. The show consisted of two parts, a Christmas special and then a performance of her hit songs. Her hit songs portion has not yet aired.

Ray, you have some good points. I think Faith Hill is amazing- her vocal ability is second to none. I have seen her in concert several times and even got to meet her. She is a very genuine person.

Faith works with the same people- the same directors, the same musical conductors, etc. I think for her to really be brought to the top and her true talent be showcased, she needs to consider working with new people with creative and refreshing ideas. That said, she has made it clear she is raising a family first, career second- something many other famous folks should give a try!!

A few points to clarify from others-

Faith has been performing "Piece of My Heart" for years. It was on, I believe, her second album as a country tune.

If Faith came out looking anything less than spectacular- there is no doubt People Magazine, Mr. Lewis, bloggers the world over would be after her in seconds. That's the entertainment world we live in. If you think she is high maintenance, they all are and the public demands it, unfortunately. Faith is beautiful without all the makeup and nice clothes.


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