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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Live: Daughtry at Henry Fonda Theater

The 'American Idol' alum and his band play a tight set of hard-rock anthems. But in all the rush, Daughtry himself is absent.

August 21, 2009|Mikael Wood

Chris Daughtry has spent much of the three years since he was on "American Idol" trying to convince people that he's not the only member of Daughtry, but it hasn't been easy.

For one thing, the "Idol" machine creates (or burnishes) solo acts, not bands; it's designed to make us see the multitudes in an individual, rather than the other way around. For another, on Daughtry's 2006 debut, Chris Daughtry was in fact the only member of Daughtry -- session players hired by producer Howard Benson performed the rest of the music.

That's not the case on Daughtry's new album, "Leave This Town," and it wasn't the case Wednesday night at the Henry Fonda Theater, where Daughtry played one of the last few dates on its current club tour. (In October the band is scheduled to launch its first headlining arena trek.)

Wednesday's 75-minute show felt like humble group work, with no shortage of the kind of tight instrumental interplay that develops over time and through experience. Daughtry's hard-hitting drummer, Joey Barnes, even made an impression to rival the singer's. Given Barnes' excellent outfit -- hot pants, headband, cravat and knee socks -- that surely must have been have his goal.

Yet if the "Idol" alum finally succeeded at the Fonda in proving that Daughtry is a real band, the concert also brought to mind one line from the outfit's biggest hit, "Home": "Be careful what you wish for."

On "Idol," Chris Daughtry stood out thanks largely to the appealing contrast between him and his fellow contestants, most of whom looked as if they'd never set foot in a bar, let alone played hundreds of shows inside one. His dour manner translated on TV to a thoughtful determination.

Minus that black-sheep quality, though, the singer can come off as a bit of a grouch. Near the end of Wednesday's show he told the capacity crowd, "This night is going by too fast," but that was only because he kept the concert moving with such surly efficiency, seemingly enjoying little but the satisfaction of checking another muscular hard-rock anthem off the set list.

Plenty of bands would do well to adopt Daughtry's fat-free approach; most, probably. But what elevates Chris Daughtry above the thousands of guys still playing anonymous bar gigs is his voice, which after three years of chronic overuse has lost none of its unique power. (If you hadn't read the singer's Twitter message that viral laryngitis forced Daughtry to cancel a show Tuesday in Arizona, you'd never have known he'd been ill.)

He slowed down enough to flex that instrument a few times at the Fonda, applying the acrobatic runs favored by R&B vocalists (and "American Idol" hopefuls) to crunching pop-metal melodies in a way that no one else does right now. When the band segued from its "You Don't Belong" into an abbreviated cover of the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," he revealed a glimpse of the strange sensuality he can muster when he's in the mood to shine.

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