Kris Allen: Cute but uncommanding at the Fine Line

Star Tribune photo by David Joles 


After the next pitch is thrown, decisions by Major League Baseball umpires cannot be reversed. After Ryan Seacrest makes the announcement, the decision by voters about the winner of “American Idol” cannot be reversed.

That’s too bad because after seeing Kris Allen in concert Saturday night at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis, I’d say America got it wrong. He should not have beeen the “Idol” champ in 2009. Adam Lambert should have prevailed — and I don’t need to see him in concert next Saturday at Mystic Lake Casino to reach that conclusion.

At the two-thirds-full Fine Line, Allen demonstrated that, at best, he could be an appealing coffeehouse performer with a lightly soulful voice. The kinda reserved, totally cute (the words of the blonde behind me) dude with the bedhead faux hawk was eminently likable — friendly, talkative and responsive to the crowd.

However, where it really counts, Allen lacked the voice, charisma, command, wherewithal and star power of someone carrying the title “American Idol.” (The songs weren’t much to get excited about either, but that’s been true of most debut albums by Idols.) His 72-minute performance was a poorly paced, encore-less disappointment — easily the least impressive Twin Cities headline debut by an “Idol” champ.

The main problem is that at age 25, Allen doesn’t know who he is or wants to be as an artist. (Gee, I'm starting to sound like “Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi.) Backed by four guys who played more like hired guns than as a band, he’d try to sound like Maroon 5 on one tune, Barenaked Ladies on another, Jason Mraz on yet another, even U2 on one number.

Allen seemed most comfortable and confident when he had his acoustic guitar (“my moneymaker,” he called it) to drive the song. Sitting down for an acoustic set, he soared on Garth Brooks’ “Maybe,” with three-part harmonies on this compelling country-folk-gospel arrangement. He was equally convincing on his own, ensuing “Before We Come Undone.” Then he took a giant misstep, covering Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android,” which not only challenged Allen’s voice (he essayed falsetto) but challenged “Idol” worshippers’ patience with this odd obscurity.

Allen’s decision-making was dubious. He saved his only radio hit, “Live Like We’re Dying,” for the finale. He didn’t offer an encore. And he mucked up his best known “Idol” number, Kanye West’s “Heartless,” by doing a full-band faux-reggae reading instead of the cool stripped down solo rendition he’d done on TV.

Nonetheless, the crowd of 550 — a sparse turnout a mere 13 months after Allen was named your “American Idol” — carried on like he was Justin Bieber for married 20- and 30-something women who’d left their hubbies at home. There were girlish screams when he took the stage, enthusiastic sing-alongs and a long line after the show to get his autograph.

To them, Allen is still their “American Idol.”

set list:

Can't Stay Away/ Heartless (Kanye West)/ Written All Over My Face/ Red Guitar/ The Truth/ Alright with Me (Jessica and Erica from the audience came onstage to play tambourine and shaker; afterward, Allen didn't hug them but rather shook their hands)   acoustic set: Maybe (Garth Brooks)/Before We Come Undone/ Paranoid Android (Radiohead) return to electric:  Lifetime/ Bring It Back/ Man in the Mirror (Michael Jackson)/ Is It Over (this song would be great for Joe Cocker or Etta James...oops, I'm sounding like Kara again)/ Live Like We're Dying


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