Phil Vassar delights at Showcase Live!

A review of Phil Vassar at Showcase Live! on February 12, 2009

, Contributing Writer

Phil Vassar, the writer of some of country music’s biggest hits, became the first country act to sell out Showcase Live! in Foxboro last week. His performance on Thursday night proved why such an honor was well deserved.
Taking the stage following an instrumental introduction made intense by some well timed strobe lights, Vassar kicked off his set with "Baby Rocks" which nicely set the tone for the next two hours of country-rock. With Phil behind the piano, a position he would maintain for much of the show when we wasn’t sliding across it, or dancing on top of it, the band segued into "Just Another Day In Paradise" which quickly became a crowd sing-along.
Thanking the crowd for "coming out on a school night," Vassar then commented on how big his butt looked in the big screens that flank the walls of Showcase Live, just one of the many times Vassar would interact with the crowd like they were old friends. "I’m All Right", a song written by Vassar but made famous by Jo Dee Messina, followed, and as the crowd supplied the chorus Vassar took a few minutes to speak one on one with people at the front of the audience. After accepting a Patriots t-shirt from someone in the crowd Vassar got back on the piano to transition to "In A Real Love".

One thing can definitely be said for Phil Vassar fans – they are a loyal, dedicated people. Every song in his set featured the audience singing solo at some point, and the crowd never lost their enthusiasm or energy. Slowing things down, Vassar dedicated his next song to a girl in the audience who had announced she was getting married over the weekend. After jokingly telling the woman to make a run for it, Vassar told the audience the song was off of his new album Prayer of A Common Man which if they didn’t already have it "would make a great gift." "Love Is A Beautiful Thing" has gotten a lot of airtime on country radio in recent months and provided a nice introduction for the song "Prayer of A Common Man" which produced Vassar’s strongest vocal range of the night.
Bringing the tempo back up, Vassar and his band produced one of the most entertaining song mash-ups I ever heard. Starting with "Come And Get Your Love" they segued into Vassar’s "Six-Pack Summer", then into an excellent rendition of Frankie Valli’s "Sherry" featuring guitarist Jeff Smith on vocals, followed that with "Oh What A Night" and Jackson Browne’s "Stay", and closed it all out with the end of "Six-Pack Summer". As if it wasn’t obvious that this band came to party, this mash-up certainly proved that. Sticking with crowd pleasers, "Carlene" and "Bye, Bye" followed, as Vassar ran back and forth on stage continuing to play the room like it was a stadium.& &

New song "The World Is A Mess, I Feel Like Dancing" and "Amazing Grace" off Shaken Not Stirred had excellent instrumental support from Vassar’s band especially Jason Fitz who throughout the set played fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and piano. "Last Day of My Life" and "American Child" provided some real emotional resonance from Vassar, and yet it didn’t feel awkward when he transitioned immediately to "Joe and Rosalita", a toe-tapping party song.

I have seen a lot of artists who let their band highlight their talents by taking a solo during a song, or who even let the band play a whole song with the audience as the only vocal accompaniment, but what Vassar did next was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Clearly understanding that the men standing around him possessed collective and individual talents that needed to be known Vassar walked off stage, letting the band take control. First up was Fitz performing "Footloose" before throwing the spotlight to keyboardist Scott Saunders whose "Summer of ’69" was quickly followed by the bass player’s rendition of "Oh Baby Give Me One More Chance". Closing out the band session was "Take The Money and Run" performed by the drummer and Journey’s "Separate Ways" courtesy of Jeff Smith.&

Coming back on stage, Vassar was goaded into putting on the Patriots t-shirt he received earlier in the night before beginning "My Next Thirty Years", a song made famous my Tim McGraw but written by Vassar.& Next came "That’s When I Love You" off of Vassar’s greatest hits album. Ending the main set was "I’ll Take That As A Yes", also known as "The Hot Tub Song". Not one to keep his eager crowd waiting, Phil and company were back on stage a minute later to begin their encore with a high energy "Workin’ For A Livin’" before slowing things down with a heartfelt "For A Little While". As his band left the stage, Vassar was given a harmonica for what would be the final song "Piano Man". Definitely a bold move by Vassar to close alone on stage with just a piano and harmonica, but it was a perfect ending for a show filled with nostalgia-inducing hit songs.&

One Flew South, a male trio, opened the show with a thirty-five minute set filled with sweet harmonies and compliments for the "beautiful girls in Foxboro." Their saccharine performance and slightly religious undertones brought up feelings of being at Sunday school and didn’t quite garner the interest of the audience. Specific songs like "Too Old To Die Young" and "My Kind of Beautiful" had potential if they could just increase their energy during live performances.

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