"Richard Marx - the wimpiest of all wimp rockers", said another RockUnited writer when I mentioned that I was going to see him in concert. While we know that it's hardly the truth, there's no denying that to the common man Marx is "the guy with the enormous poodle mullet who sang all those ballads back in the eighties". Nevertheless, I wasn't expecting a fists-in-the-air hard rock event in any case, but I can't say I was thrilled to hear that this would be an acoustic concert with only Marx and a couple of guests on stage. Apparently this change in the concert's format was news to the organizers too, as it was never advertised as an "unplugged" show.
The House Of Culture is never a sweaty pit kind of rock venue, but for this concert it was fully seated and the overall vibe before the show was, well, very "civilized". The were a lot of people in their mid-forties in the audience, dressed "properly" and I'm sure that a lot of the ladies had visited a hair saloon earlier that day. Mind you, it was a mixed crowd with some long-haired rocker-type of people in there too...
Punctually at 8 pm the lights were dimmed and Mr. Marx took the stage. Yep, it was just him and his guitar, put as soon as he started playing, he had the undivided attention of just about everyone in the house. He kicked off with "Endless Summer Nights", a hit from his first album, followed by "When You're Gone" from his "My Own Best Enemy" album (2004). Although the audience was almost completely silent during the songs, both songs got a rousing reception and deservedly so. Even though it was just the man and his guitar, both songs sounded great and Richard's vocals were immaculate. Not a lot of eighties' stars have aged gracefully, but Richard Marx surely is one of those. He's 47, but looks at least ten years younger, and sings just as well as back in the day, if not better. And no, he doesn't have a mullet anymore, as you can see in the photos...
We were lucky enough to be given good seats right in the middle of the room, just behind the mixing console. With there being no band, the volume was rather low for a change, and soundwise this was indeed one of the most pleasant gigs I've witnessed. What made it even more pleasant was the guy on stage, who presented himself as a genuinely likeable, humourous person and a good storyteller. He had small stories about each of the songs he played, mostly funny little anecdotes and sometimes quite touching ones. He wasn't afraid to laugh at himself either, and made fun of the aforementioned mullet among other things. I won't spoil anyone's fun by re-telling those stories here as he's still on tour - go and see him yourself if you have a chance!
While the songs worked well as solo performances, when Steve Hornbeak accompanied Marx on piano and backing vocals the sound got much fuller and added variety to the show. I especially liked the guitar/piano version of "Hazard", which was enhanced by a stylish use of the video screen. Marx himself played the piano on the touching tribute to his late father, a song called "In My Veins". And the audience listened speechless... I was amazed at the way Marx had the audience captivated, eating out of his hand. It was as if no-one wanted to miss a note, only singing along when prompted to do so!
The first half of the concert ended in "Save Me", which featured Marx' three sons ("The Marx Brothers!") accompanying him on drums, piano and guitar via the video screen. Marx said that this hard rocking song from "Emotional Remains" album was a special one for him - all of his boys actually liked the song a lot! This version was more stripped than the album version, but a good one nevertheless. The Marx Bros. are all really skilled musicians, so we'll probably hear more of them in the future. By the way, the youngest Marx brother Jesse was sporting a Trivium shirt in the video...
There was an interval between the two parts of the concert, which was a potential threat to the good atmosphere of the gig. However, when Marx returned to the stage, he carried on edffortlessly. The first song of the set was interrupted by a radio signal or something coming out of the PA system, but Marx just quipped "That was AWESOME!" and started "Take This Heart" again. "Always On Your Mind" was introduced as a song Marx co-wrote with Matt Scannell of Vertical Horizon, and to make the point clear he even sang a few snippets of the biggest Vertical hits. What he did next was a bit of a surprise - Marx decided to go totally acoustic, singing the song without a microphone and his guitar unplugged. You could've really heard a pin drop during the performance, as I'm sure that some people didn't even dare to breath during it!
"Angelia" was introduced with Marx laughing at his mullet (there was a "vintage" photo of him shown on the screen). "Everyone here might have had a haircut that was a mistake in their history, but at least yours are not on YouTube!"... The N'Sync song "This I Promise You" sounded good performed now by the artist that wrote it. So did the three more uptempo hits of his, "Don't Mean Nothing", "Satisfied" and "Should've Known Better", which ended the set.
As encores, Marx had saved a couple of special things. He had actually brought two of his sons with him to Europe, and the shared the stage with their father, singing backup vocals on the song "You Never Take Me Dancing". Inevitably, the show was closed with one of the modern-day evergreens, the ballad "Right Here Waiting". While the song might be a bit worn out by the constant exposure, that didn't matter at all. Those first few notes on the piano and it was chills down my spine, goosebumps all over...
As sceptical I was about this acoustic performance, I was proved wrong and really enjoyed the show. Marx promised to come back after this warm reception he got, but the next time he might consider bringing over a band too.
Review by Kimmo Toivonen