Michael Bolton. You might know him as the ”blue-eyed soul” singer who has also recorded arias, big band music and contemporary pop, but for me he is one of the finest AOR singers ever. Yes, he released a few melodic rock albums during the eighties, and even his late eighties/early nineties albums included some rock tracks. The self-titled first album under the Bolton name from 1983 and ”Everybody’s Crazy” two years later are bonafide AOR classics, but they didn’t sell that much. ”The Hunger”, released in 1987 was a slight change in style and his first platinum album, thanks to the balladic hits ”That’s What Love Is All About” and a cover of Otis Redding’s ”(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay”, which hinted at things to come. On his next album ”Soul Provider”, the soulful ballads had taken over, although it did include a couple of fantastic AOR tracks ”You Wouldn’t Know Love” and ”How Can We Be Lovers”. The next two albums of original songs, ”Time, Love And Tenderness” and ”The One Thing” still had a song or two that could be described as ”rock”, but since then, his output hasn’t featured much in the way of rock. Some fine ballads and good pop songs though. A minority among his fans has been hoping for a rock release (or even a token rock song), yet knowing that the chances are slim.
This history lesson brings us back to today. When it was announced that Bolton was to play a couple of concerts, I marked the Tampere date to my calendar with a big X - this concert I would want to see, if only for the good old days. I knew that there wouldn’t be anything from the two first Bolton albums, but I was just thrilled about the possibility of hearing him sing, and just to hear ”How Can We Be Lovers” and ”Steel Bars” live would make it worth the effort to go to this concert. A few months prior to the concert I did hear some worrying reports about his show being mostly covers and Bolton letting his backing vocalists sing certain songs… I hoped that it was a one-off and maybe he’d change his setlist for the European audience.
The concert in Tampere took place in Tampere-talo, a rather nice building that has been designed for musical performances. The staff of Tampere-talo was very welcoming to us, even taking the two of us to the concert hall before the doors were opened, so that we’d know where we were allowed to take photos and where our seats would be.
Half an hour later the show was scheduled to start, I went to my seat and Mira went to the area where she was allowed to be… then nothing. We listened to music and waited for about 30 minutes. The crowd was getting restless and some people were considering the possibility of Bolton having not arrived at all. Fortunately that was not the case. Eventually the houselights went down and the band arrived. The gig started with a short piece of ”Go The Distance” with Bolton’s voice from a tape, then a spoken intro: ”Ladies And Gentlemen, Michael Bolton”.
Bolton arrived strumming a guitar, and the first song was a 60s classic ”Stand By Me”. Good enough for me, although I noticed that Bolton was moving a bit slow and holding back the big notes. After the song he thanked the audience for patience and explained that he’d gotten sick a week ago, but he’d try to give us everything he had left. And that he did, he soldiered on and even though he was clearly struggling, he still sounded good. The great backing vocalists helped a lot and covered some of the parts he couldn’t do. The setlist had been shortened and I guess some of the more demanding songs had been dropped off.
Even though the show was over in an hour, Bolton and the band went through a lot of musical genres. There were lots of ballads of course, that’s Bolton’s ”main thing”. He did surprise at least me by playing some solid lead guitar during the bluesy ”Sweet Home Chicago”. He was quite funny too, constantly asking the crowd to help him by singing ”the verse, the chorus or the guitar solo… or all, please do”. He also introduced his first hit ”How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” as being a pivotal moment in his life, because ”food is good”. The royalty checks from Laura Branigan’s first version meant a lot to a struggling songwriter/artist. The song itself was sung as a duet with backing vocalist Chrissi Poland.
After just seven songs, Bolton disappeared backstage and the band took over. First the sax player Jason Peterson DeLaire got the spotlight and played ”You And I” by Michael Lington and a bit of ”You Are So Beautiful”, then backing vocalist Chrissi Poland sang a medley of three Michael Bolton hits: ”That’s What Love Is All About”, ”Missing You Now” and ”When I’m Back On My Feet Again”. As good as the Bolton band was, this wasn’t exactly what we had come to hear or see.
Bolton returned for the last two songs, first of them which he sang among the crowd. ”When A Man Loves A Woman” was a big hit, and the ”no cell phone photos” rule went flying out of the window when the man himself got closer to his fans.
The absolute highlight for me was ”How Can We Be Lovers”, the last song of the set, although I didn’t know it then. We’re talking about goosebumps here… and then it was over. I was sure that there would be a few other songs, but no, the lights went on and Cheap Trick’s ”The Flame” started playing - it was really over.
I can’t deny that even though I wasn’t expecting a set of rock tracks, this concert was a bit of a disappointment. Of course the health issues have to be considered, but I certainly would have liked to hear Michael Bolton sing mostly his own songs. Now we actually heard one and a half MB originals sung by the man himself, and a medley of three others sung by someone else. This could have been a celebration of Michael Bolton’s music, now it was merely a celebration of his voice. Unfortunately we didn’t get to hear too much of that either.
During the week after the concert Bolton has cancelled both of his scheduled concerts, the other show in Oulu, Finland and his appearance at the Rewind festival in the UK.
Review by Kimmo Toivonen
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