Live review: Adam Lambert at the Pacific Amphitheater
With fur epaulets accenting his purple fringed coat, the color palette of an old Italian movie poster brushed around his eyes, and a feather in his super-sized top hat which happens to be adorned with a sparkly, blood-red letter A, everything about Adam Lambert screams “look at me.” It’s one reason the San Diego native first tried his hand at musical theater as a kid and later auditioned for what’s arguably the country’s biggest stage, “American Idol.”
Lambert didn’t win that competition, coming in second to Kris Allen on Season 8, but in the post-“Idol” success race, there is no contest. While Allen opened for Barenaked Ladies at the Greek Theater last week, a perfectly respectable booking in addition to warmup slots for Keith Urban and Maroon 5, Lambert was headlining a second sold-out show at the Pacific Amphitheater on Wednesday, halfway through a world tour that has him playing to near-capacity crowds from now until December.
As for that summer concert slump we all keep reading about? It may be plaguing the Season 9 Idols Live outing, but it was nowhere to be seen at the Costa Mesa stop of the Glamnation Tour, where Adam Lambert devotees -- or Glamberts, as they’re affectionately known -- from all walks of life (disproportionately heavy on the female, over- 40 variety) filled nearly every one of the venue’s 8,500 seats. What they got in return for their $39.50 (besides free entry to the O.C. Fair)? A show, in every sense of the word.
Fellow “Idol” alum Allison Iraheta kicked off the evening at sunset, followed by guitar prodigy Orianthi. Both offered strong sets but delivered double the punch when they jammed together on Allison’s addictive new single, “Don’t Waste the Pretty.”
Setting a slightly more subdued tone, Lambert’s 65-minute set opened with two deep cuts from his debut album “For Your Entertainment”: the moody “Voodoo,” with a projection of the moon as its backdrop, and the seductive “Down the Rabbit Hole,” which beckons an allegorical animal -- played by one of four dancers -- to “come on and follow me” through a rainbow-colored laser jungle.
And so they did -- the crowd, that is. A reprise of Lambert’s Middle Eastern-flavored take on “Ring of Fire,” a favorite from his “Idol” run, was met with shrieks befitting a bona fide rock star, while “Fever,” co-written by Lady Gaga, featured a playful but full-on lick of bassist Tommy Joe Ratliff’s face, perhaps to remind fans that Lambert’s 2009 American Music Awards stunt wasn’t so much the exception as the rule.
On the flip side, and borrowing a line from his own song, “Whataya Want From Me,” Lambert was equally adept at slowing it down. He delivered the Pink-penned tune with only an acoustic accompaniment by longtime guitarist and friend Monte Pittman. It gave the radio hit more emotional resonance. On the dramatic “Sleepwalker,” with its winding melodies, and “Soaked,” with its sparse arrangement, Lambert put his octave-defying vocal reach on full display, mesmerizing first-timers and prompting at least one of the aforementioned cougars to angrily shush a couple nearby for talking too loudly during his impassioned performance.
In truth, there were areas in the amphitheater where the vocal volume was severely lacking. Any die-hard would want Lambert’s live voice to pierce their very being, so while turning it up to 11 was probably an O.C. Fair no-go, in some spots the sound barely cracked seven. Fortunately, as the tempo picked up with songs like “Music Again” and the Scissor Sisters-esque “If I Had You,” the energy of the crowd, singing along to every word with arms in the air, gave it the fullness it deserved.
Three fierce knee-length coats and one suggestive walking cane later, Lambert’s encore offered a quick “Idol” flashback: an up-tempo version of “Mad World,” widely regarded as one of his finest moments on the show, which segued into a slowed-down rendition of “Whole Lotta Love.” Both songs exhibited the bold vocal twists and turns that have become Adam Lambert’s trademark, albeit without the production bells and whistles that a No. 1 TV show can buy.
Indeed, the five or so stairs on Lambert’s stage are much smaller than the ones on “Idol,” the lighting setup simpler and the band more compact. The end result: All eyes naturally fixate on the frontman. So go ahead and gawk. Adam Lambert wants you to.
-- Shirley Halperin
Photo: Adam Lambert. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times
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