A week on the road driving through the southwest to visit Zion National Park and I am craving some live music. It’s been some time since I have listened to Phillip Phillips and I had zero ideas on what to anticipate from his live show. If you check out his Spotify he’s listed as a jam style rock artist with a mixing in of acoustic songs he wrote himself. Oh, and he won American Idol’s 11th season, super casual nothing to brag out or anything. Which to me makes the guy that much more easy to relate to. Yes, artists were once not famous and celebrities at a time in their lives but when you have seen someone on a stage like American Idol get put through a voting gauntlet. Then come out the other side still humble and relate-able you have to take notice. Phillips has maintained his raspy sound and down to earth lyrics while to my delight gathering a full band which can legit jam. With opener The Ballroom Thieves the First Ave stage was filled with a true bluegrass feel and plenty of singer songwriter types.
Leading off came The Ballroom Thieves. Once more a band in 2018 leading me to think, what conversation led to this band name?!. One of the band members was a ballroom dancing competition and in came thieves to steel the fine china and tableware? Sounds like a Wes Anderson film but I chuckle none the less. Regardless of how their name came to be they arrived on stage to play. I usually can find bands to compare groups to so new listeners can understand the sound but in this case I am at a loss. Which hear me out, I love. The have an amazing down to earth blue grass sound which makes you want to get the band around a campfire and listen to them play through the night while in deep thought. One of my favorites, dark as it may be, was their song about killing your husband. A song introduced by the friendly cello player of the group who giggled with the crowd as she shared the song’s story.
Through their set I had to take a few breaks to listen and soak in the words. Something I usually either manage to avoid because I know the band’s music by heart or can get the vibe even while moving. Though The Ballroom Thieves are a fun crowd interacting group their music requires your attention and deserves it. The lyrics are great visual narrations and the harmonizing is peaceful and stirring all at once. Fair to say that this is a band I wish I had know about long before because I can think of so many contexts where their music would be perfect to have on.
Phillips hit the stage with his band, whom I forgot he wasn’t a solo act for a moment, and away they went. Now, if you are like many people you think of Home and Gone, Gone, Gone for Phillip’s big songs. If you are a little more music savvy you’ll know songs like Lead the Way, Unpack Your Heart, and Raging Fire. But I would put good money on most people don’t know Phillips has a full band and one heck of a talent for jamming. It wasn’t until I began walking around to get some shots from the balcony that I paused and thought holy crap this is great and completely unexpected. Of all the songs played neither of Phillips’ two major hits were the ones fans went crazy over.
Songs like Raging Fire definitely got things energized, but I think it was when Magnetic got rolling that many like myself were applauding as the guys started settling into a groove. I think in reflection that this was also the moment in the show I found myself feeling happy for Phillips. Not for American Idol, sorry not a fan of the show, but because here is a guy who went after a dream on a show with a millions to one shot. Not only did he win but he’s stuck to his sound and voice while continuing to play music and do what very clearly is his happy place. That’s something few get to do or leap at and hearing his new music back to back with his old tracks shows you he has not lost his way or personal sound.
For a show I had no ideas on what to expect with an opener I was in the dark on this was one of the best surprises on my concert schedule this year. The Ballroom Thieves will fit right in with anyone’s road trip or blue grass binge time. And Phillips showed me that in the time I lost touch with his late work he has no wavered and stay true to what brought him success and then added on more.