Kalan Porter in Concert: All grown up and subverting the franchise

This is going to be a recurring theme, in this journal: Notes from the (Canadian, mostly) Idol Front Lines…well, sort of front lines. I’m probably the last female in Idol fandom who hasn’t yet been hugged by the current CI, an elfin – some even say angelic, though I have my grave doubts – rocker by the name of Kalan Porter.
Maybe it’s more like M*A*S*H, where they were perpetually ‘three miles from the front’ – not close enough to be totally engulfed by the madness, but close enough to need to ward it off constantly with jokes. (Yeah, I realise I just compared the Korean War to a reality television series. Go tell that to the TV critics who carry on like Simon Cowell’s the Antichrist.)
This year, though, bore a closer resemblance to later-season 4077th, inasmuch that as time went on the feeling that I was watching Something Actually Quite Special, in this case young Porter, got harder and harder to ignore until it threatened the funny to a really alarming degree. Luckily, as this recap from the Toronto leg of his concert tour demonstrates, there are compensations…

(Note: I’ve tried to explain the insider references as far as possible, but like any fandom lingo, Idolese is impenetrable in spots. For the key try cliking on my homepage above, or check out this thread on the official fanclub forum, from whence also come most of the characters.)

*****

So OK, you’ve all heard the drill about standing in line and how it was so cold and yada yada…Well, too-ruddy-bad, because I was standing out there and it was cold, damnit! And frankly I am really starting to question the Universe here, how my every glimpse of Kalan Porter live must be paid for by some sort of Trial By Frigidity…
Er. Luckily, while I was mentally composing the above, sunshyne and shing found me and introduced me to the rest of the fanclub gang, and they turned out to be amazingly bright and funny women, so the Universe is off the hook. For now.

The Phoenix is a big ol’ barn of a place, straight out of Dickens if Dickens had’ve been able to envision a dance club. Exposed beams,  brewery-logo-intensive wall decor, floridly grimy Formica, the lot. The main concert hall is cavernous and would smell of stale beer if the smell hadn’t given up long ago and just settled into the woodwork. Sound is iffy – albeit OK in rock-concert terms, at least to my ear – and shing, who’s been to a few of these things by now, expresses some concern at the smallness of the stage. Meanwhile I’m expressing concern at the largeness – and not incidentally pinkness – of the crowd, ie. silently wondering if claustrophobia’s a viable defense for tweenacide. I suppose the ‘ripping their lungs out while maniacally screeching ‘SIGN THIS!!!!’ part would still be hard to explain. Pity.
So we’re shortly perched atop a couch in a corner of the balcony, comfily out of smooshing range and not in the immediate vicinity of glitter in any form. Plus, re: the tiny stage, am being hugely entertained by a mental image of Kalan flipping his curls back – oh, yeah, the kid knows how to work that mop, you bet – and having a mid-hair collision with his likewise golden-maned guitarist. I am content.

(At one point, heading to the coat check, I ran across a twenty-something guy – yup, clearly of the male gender – wearing a tee identifying him as a very female fan. Had Kalan’s CI audition # on the back in marker and everything. I can only assume he lost a bet with his gramma.)

Amanda Stott. Pretty woman – more substantial than I’d come to expect. Excited to be in TO, etc. Lovely voice…in the service of some extremely generic ‘She’s gonna make it after all’ music. Maybe she needs some more instrumentation, or maybe she needs to improve on the instrumentation she was providing herself on the keyboards…all I know is at one point I was listening to her and watching some Super Bowl commercials (TV in a bar on the opposite corner), and the soundtrack effect was seamless.

The usual not-terribly-fascinating setup chores, followed by a lengthy pause. Which strikes me as pushing it, given that the stage appears to have not been buffed up since debuting Bill Haley and the Comets. “Maybe they’re waiting for the smoke to build up,” I joke. “It’s possible,” shing says quite seriously.

The audience is about 80% female, average age maybe 15-25 and includes some apparently unaccompanied males. Is very responsive, if not wholly electric at first – I’m guessing the pure anticipation has and will be blunted as more and more advance details arrive online.

Aaaaaaand whoosh! the Little Prince arrives in his kingdom. The slight, intense figure in the violet shadows, the rising crescendo of the violin…stunning. Fabulous way to open a rock show.
‘Just another ranch kid’ has indeed vanished without trace – and suddenly I’m not so sure I like the idea. In fact as one purple spotlite hits me full in the face I find myself seriously missing the little foot-shuffling mumbler from CI. The one who was standing in the shadows mostly because it was the best way to avoid Jon Dore.
Then the smoke clears for an instant, he turns his back…and I realise he’s using the ensuing Dramatic Pause to frantically unbutton the long coat in time for his next cue. This, somehow, is comforting.

Segue as per the CD, into She’s So Dangerous. Not much to report musically except that it’s been relaxed into slightly more of a rock number, as always live a silky-smooth rebuke to the BMG sound-engineering corps.
Kalan…is not quite so smooth. ‘Theatrical streak’ is one way to put it; ‘Posturing after the manner of the early-90’s video stars he grew up idolizing’ is the one that comes more immediately to mind. Lots of bending, clutching, dramatic head-swinging that the younger audience eats up and I do not buy for an instant. I can take that kind of luxuriously erotic exhaustion from, say, Michael Hutchence, but from a nineteen-year-old only four concerts into his first tour? Not so much. At one point he flops forward from the waist, arms dangling loose, yellow curls poufed forward – and I swear he’s only a pink gingham pinafore away from Miss Pat, my beloved old ragdoll.
The credibility does go up a bit, though, when you can see his face, which of course settles naturally into these kinds of ethereal poses. Synaesthete‘s gonna kill me, but I actually liked the ‘yoga moves’ quite a lot.

Meanwhile his band – who look much more with the program generally than the ill-assorted bunch of temps at the New Year’s show – are playing it fast, fun and loose. They’re in no danger of permanently upstaging their frontman but they do definitely know what they’re doing. Especially lead guitarist/band director/Mr. Sass Jordan, Derek Sharpe, who makes a v. serviceable poor man’s Eddie Van Halen and contributes a few nice vocal moments to boot.

And We Drive. Still posing…all the way down to the floor and sloooowwwwllllly back up the mic stand. Which is kinda fundamentally odd to begin with because in terms of raw sexual invitation this song is not exactly Light My Fire, unless maybe the kid’s visualising a flashlight and the back seat of a ’57 Chevy, and even then he’d need to be very creative, battery-wise. All snerk aside, I do hope he can be persuaded to drop these random floor-flops soon, or at least shove them back a bit. They’re not build-the-energy kinda moves at all.
The rest of the performance, though…yowza. The song hasn’t improved any in the transition from CD, but Kalan…This is some serious rock, uh, stuff, happening here, folks. You can tell it’s coming up from something fundamental inside. Zack would be yelling ‘awesome’ all the way through.

Pause somewhere in here to say, quote, “Hey.” SCREAM! You-all can add in the SCREAMS at appropriate points the rest of the way, right? Right. Also eventually tells the crowd hello and thank you (the latter will be to no-one’s surprise a frequently recurring theme, this evening.) Also to explain that as this is one of the smallest venues we’ll be getting the ‘intimate and interactive’ version of his usual show. I am duly cutified.
Of course, this is still Kalan doing the interacting, meaning brief, to the point and always a clearly audible undercurrent of wanting to get it over with…with one exception, about which much more later.

I Don’t Wanna Miss You…and while it’s very pretty as per usual frankly I’m not really in the mood to hear this song just now, and apparently neither are the band, as this is easily the most faithful CD-to-stage transition of the evening. Can we just get back to the part with the Chevy, please, Kalan? I have a feeling we’d all be a lot happier.

Ordinary World. Ah, Duran Duran. I am sitting there with this ridiculous nostalgic grin, remembering a point long ago when another blond pop wailer was like, the coolest thing evah in my little junior-high world. Then I realise that to complete the illusion Kalan would have to be wailing Rio, and come abruptly back to the present just in time to appreciate his actual, gently intense performance. It doesn’t quite lift the overall energy to pre-IDWMY levels, and the sound deficiencies are starting to become mildly annoying…but there’s still a smile on my face when he’s done. (I think Simon and co. would’ve liked the non sequitur candy-cane lighting, too. Yes, seriously, bright honkin’ red-and-white stripes. I totally can see this as part of the Christmas tradition for many years, in the le Bon household.)

Old Man. Of course, the very notion of Kalan singing Neil Young is, on the face of it, patently ridiculous. This song in particular is about things that, right now, he’s a long way from being able to internalize.
But damned if he doesn’t understand, on some fundamental (and likely largely unconscious) level. There’s a poignant quality in the chorus especially – rather as if Oliver Twist were singing to Fagin. The major reason why I flipped out over this kid is encapsulated here; it’s not vocal genius he has, exactly – I don’t think – but it comes so close betimes you just have to shake your head.

My Sweet One. Nice logical segue, and nice performance. For some reason he has a handle on this slight little ballad nearly as intense as the one on Nature Boy, aka the one that brought down the CI house.

Short guitar-driven segue into Single (most of the segues are guitar-driven, actually; this is evidently Derek’s little self-reward). Much less posing but lots of self-butt-slapping in this one.I have no clue.
At any rate, there’s some considerable remixing going on with this one. The basic idea is clearly to cope with the campiness by burying it under a ton of straight-ahead rock goodness, and frankly I am totally with the program. So is the audience; it’s at this point that the energy kicks into really high gear, transferring from mere sight of Kalan to the show itself. (I am trying really really hard not to make the connexion with the posing/butt-slapping switch, here. Really, I am. Not a word, from this quarter. So stop that snickering.)

…Actually, I think the true demarcation line might come when he picks up the – electric? – violin again for the Single solo. Y’know, quite seriously, Kalan the Musician – mesmerizing with his skill, gesturing imperiously with the bow, challenging his bandmates – takes control of the latter half of his show like Kalan the Poseur only wishes he could. Uninhibited, fiercely theatrical and not incidentally hella sexy.
And all this is before he picks up the lacey panties, gives them a long, thoughtful look, and carefully sets them on the water table. (By the way, thank you, whomever up there looks after these things – I’m assuming it’s the same department as the people who decide which linebacker prayed hard enough to win the SuperBowl – that said panties are not red.)
In these moments he’s truly at centre stage in a downtown Toronto club by right, not just because he won a contest.

“This next song is one I wrote…” and he sounds endearingly self-satisfied with that, too, ducking his head to accept the SCREAMS. Unfortunately the knowing chuckles when he begins ‘the story behind’After All immediately rattle the loose ego connections underneath: “I was, um, watching the news on TV…y’know, war and stuff…” Mm-hm.
The opening verse seems a bit underwhelming…ah, who am I kidding, my critical self’s on total autopilot waiting for its first live floorgasm (tm Syn). This move is a little hard to describe without the visual; the kid hits the floor again, but instead of riding the mic stand he just…huddles…there awhile.
A long while.
Long enough that my brain insists on replaying some similar Morrison footage and running a compare-and-contrast.
Then whoosh! Kalan’s head comes up. Eep. My brain does not need the encouragement, thank you…
And then just before it gets to motivations aka the really scary part, he abruptly returns whole and hale from his little visit to Doorsivana and away we go.
And y’know…despite everything I’ve seen and said about pretentious posing so far, this remains a highly dramatic bit of theatre; it is at very least, as Dad Porter calls it, ‘unsettling’. (Albeit Derek soloing right in Kalan’s ear, for all the world as if the Kiss didn’t wake the Beauty so he’s helpfully trying another tack, sure isn’t nudging the illusion along any. Derek is just a tad too cheerful all round, for a rock’n’roll mentor.)
I can see where Dad might be in serious too-much-info territory, at any rate. When the kid throws his head back and all those golden curls go flying, it’s a literal climax; when he bounds up and into the chorus the entire place is electric with the release.

Which segues seamlessly into moment of near-genius #2: a long rock/classical/after-awhile-you-can’t-tell-and-don’t-care instrumental, one of those great toss-off concert moments that only instinctive performers can even think about achieving. Perfectly controlled, so totally freewheeling. Turns out Kalan understood exactly what fellow CI alum Jacob Hoggard was doing all along – he just expresses it via the violin, instead of eyeshadow.

But after pulling off Duran Duran Kalan’s clearly not averse to a little glam in his rock, either, so…Let’s Dance. (No, he doesn’t try this night, thank Terpsichore.)
Kalan does Bowie! One of those concepts that’s nearly impossible to get your head around before you see it happen…and then all you can think is ‘Duh!’ Easily one of the strongest vocals of the night, completely Velveeta-free, which is something not even Bowie himself can always avoid.

The most enjoyable part of this whole concert for me is the continuation of the CD’s saving grace likewise: through all the adolescent – and of course Idol – excesses and enthusiasms, you can still clearly catch the thread of Kalan’s own musical imagination. This isn’t just a talented kid playing happily among the cool covers; this is an artist in the making, with a strong and unique sense of who he is and what he wants to become. And that sure ain’t Ballad-Boy, folks. To paraphrase Zack again, Kalan Porter is someday soon gonna be one fine, and fascinating, rock specimen.

But meanwhile he’s nineteen, and he’s having a ball, and there’s a whole audience in front of him just begging to have their minds messed with. Behold the power of Being Annoying over teenage male inhibitions. There’s no way to separate groups so he doesn’t bother, although the ever-helpful Derek looks like he wouldn’t mind wading in and having a go.

“OK, on count of three I need everybody to scream ‘Let’s Dance!’ Count. Feeble screem. This is about standard for Toronto audiences, who before having any spontaneous public fun whatsoever need time to calibrate the dorkage factor against their inner Coolness Meters.

Kalan, the Albertan, looks disappointed. Tries again. Slightly louder screams. Pauses, shakes head, smirks. “I gotta tell you, Hamilton was way better.” Uh-huh. It doesn’t take Miss Cleo to see a pattern emerging here. (On the other hand, if he’d only had the chance to tell the Hamilton crowd that Torontonians were better…phooooo. They’d’ve blown him through the drumset.)

Third try. SCREAM! But Kalan’s having way too good a time to stop now. “C’mon, Toronto!” Throws in a silent countdown, which nets him…a tiny noise, as 700 Coolness Meters short out entirely.

Pause. Smirk. “OK, you guys weren’t ready for that, were you.” Lord, don’t tell me he’s actually starting to enjoy this? “One more try!”

SCREAM! “C’mon!” SCREAM!” “Not-loud-enough!”

SCREEEEAAAAAAM!

…Angelic grin, mischevious lilt… “OK-I-LIED!”

Y’know, now that I really come to give it serious thought, mumbling truly is vastly underrated, in a musician.

Anyhow, I am thinking it’s not a pure coincidence that it is now time for the sweetly serene Beatles classic. Because. Harmonies acapella round the centre mic with Derek and (I believe) Kenneth the Other Guitarist, a la the Barenaked Ladies, surprisingly effective. All kudos too for not going the usual pretentious-adolescent-band route and trying to rock up Eleanor Rigby…or, come to think of it, the usual pretentious-Idol-winner route and singing Yesterday with a gospel choir on the backing track.

In Your Eyes. Have I mentioned yet how fundamentally cool this setlist is? Because it totally is. All the more so because they don’t waste a lot of time trying to explain why. (“This song, it played at my high school prom…”) The intro has clearly been designed as the Drummer’s big moment, and he duly takes advantage.
Then…well, it relates to the Top Three ‘original’ about as well as the CD duet did with the finale ditto. I miss the undercurrent of surreal wistfulness, those three voices coming together perfectly just at the moment of separation. It would be interesting to know whether the song was chosen here for the same nostalgic – pragmatic? – reasons.
Ah well, however it fell out the sweetest of the voices is still there, and the violin, and it’s all cool, so, yeah.

By now the SCREAMS resound constantly, and it’s a measure of how much I’m into it all myself that I don’t even care, much (possibly because the ongoing acoustic lack means I can’t make out more than half of the actual words). Let’s say I’m more forgiving than I was at the outset. When a nineteen-year-old Star puts on a rock show of this calibre, is this switched-on and eager – not to please, exactly, but to transmit his own passion to the audience – the only possible appreciation is yelling and dancing and clapping and whooping and – if you’re under 25, anyway – SCREAMing for all you’re worth. Mission accomplished. Simple as that.
(Especially has yelling, etc. become more logical since the poses have been completely dropped in favour of good old-fashioned lurching around the stage, interspersed with a windshield-wipe or two. There’s also a lot of pointing skyward; he’s either thanking his God or Roger Daltrey or both, I haven’t quite decided.)

Surrender, aka the Cheap Trick song, aka the The One Where Angel-Boy Sings Dirty Lyrics, Giggle Giggle. So all I really have to do is say he does a fantastic job of rocking it out, completely relaxed and convincing, and you have the idea. (OK, that, and I doubt the parents – in the front row as per usual for the first several shows – were all that baffled by it. The kid’s a progressive-rock fan. They’ve probably been yanking Walkman headphones and demanding what that is he’s mouthing for quite some little time now.)

Neat intro to the next song, all blaring guitars and crashing drums. Oh, cool, what’s a rock show without a decent…hey, wait a sec, why is shing smiling at me like that? Yep, damned if it isn’t Awake in a Dream: The Power Ballad. And it is just so obvious that that is what it was always meant to be, so right, that even the full sixty or so verses later I am still stunned into pure delight. Forget coping with the banality, just break on through to the passion. Why didn’t anybody (save perhaps Jacob) see this before?
…Oh, right, Idol. Y’know, now that I think of it, there’s not been a single reminder of Kalan’s official title tonight, not from him, not on the publicity, not on the merch, nothing. Even the emcee was all about “BMG recording artist…” This is kind of interesting in a few different directions, because there’s no way it’s an oversight, and there’s no way it’s up to Kalan.

Pause while Kalan goes just offstage to retrieve…[dum de dum dum DUM]…his Manly Hat! I am endlessly, endlessly amused by Kowboy Kalan, just because it’s so unexpectedly authentic. Bearing a more than passing resemblance to a Dwight Yoakum daydream (the one where he invests in Rogaine) the kid transitions from glam to Georgia so authoritatively I stop anticipating the second rock CD and start half-worrying about the current status of his truck and his dog. (And don’t tell me he doesn’t have a truck. I think they come standard, with those ten-gallon numbers.) Even tips the hat over his Manly Brow, right on cue.
Ahem. Once I get over the feeling of anticlimax, the actual Devil Went Down to Georgia performance is a ton of fun. It’s in a great position on the program, feeding off all the accumulated energy of the night, and there is enough here now to really rock, uh, swing, uh, yodel…whatever the C&W terminology is. Save some generic guitar insertions where the big fiddle solo should be.

Then again, it’s possible I’m just cranky because it’s cutting into my quality fiddling time. Seriously, they use this green spotlite on his fingers, and…I dunno, I’m just absorbed. Sunshyne and co. are all about “The guitar was turned up too high! You can’t hear the fiddle!”, and I’m like “Huh? Hear? There was sound?”

Encore time! Of course, in practice this is an ‘encore’ the same way sports movies might not end with the Big Game. The audience is gamely keeping up their end of the farce, but, really. A whole ten seconds or so later, heeeeere’s Kalan – and here’s Idol:

House of the Rising Sun. Acapella. The Idol material is arranged as a sort of Yeah, I Deserved It, Pretty Much tour, and here’s the kickoff: when he did this identical bit for his CI audition the judges were reduced to helpless puddles of  inevitable-ness. Now, a year later, here he is effortlessly invoking those memories…and more. Much more. Damn, but it’s gonna be fun watching AI4 flop around trying to find the equivalent of this kid.

Long Train Running. Oh, way to dump me back to earth, Idol Boi [sigh]. The inexplicable fascination this inane MOR standard holds for a kid whose idea of rock Stardom was nurtured by the likes of Radiohead is an ongoing soft-spot in my fanhood. Oh, sure, it’s a fun, high-energy performance. And yes, I know, the whole idea is to stick it to the Man – aka the CI judges, who sneered hard enough at the ‘karaoke’ original to deserve it. Also that, frankly, recappers who own Bob Seger CDs should not throw rocks. But given that he had a choice between this and a cover of Paint it Black…damnit, kid, you’re screwing with the Natural Order of Things, here! Stop that!

Nature Boy. I hear a sniffle nearby and turn to discover a middle-aged woman sobbing openly. Which is kinda mildly freaky, since you just know this is the 50,000th time she’s heard it. And if you’re reading this with a bemused ‘huh?’ on your face, get thee to some video clips immediately.

Long whacked-out intro to the last song…“Ooh, ooh, he’s gonna do Born to Be Wild,” a fangirl behind me squeeks excitedly. Heh. Come to think of it, he does sort of assume the position, or at least the expression.
And then he…just…kicks it. To pontificate any more about authenticity etc would be way beside the point. Just as much naked rock soul on display as on Top Two night, but none of the desperation. You get the feeling, watching this kid so incandescently in his element, that the whole desperation thing – let alone any mumbling or shuffling – must’ve anyway been a figment of your imagination. The whole thing just builds and builds on great big crashing waves of sound and lights and violin (!) and suddenly it’s a Rock Concert Finale of absolutely epic proportions.
…OK, epic if the Rock Concert is being put on by an Idol. Which, all other things being equal, is pretty damn close to apocalyptic to begin with. I mean, imagine even Nikki McKibbin trying to pull off Steppenwolf…Ooh, sorry. But you do take my point, no?

And that’s all, folks. Almost.
I decide to head down ‘real quick’ to get my coat – thus proving once again that old trope about absentminded recappers. Honestly, sunshyne, shing, I didn’t mean to disappear on you like that without saying goodbye, but, y’know…fangirls to the left of me, fangirls to the right, there I was stuck in the middle with…Josh Seller?
Oh, this is just so unbelievably typical of my luck. No Porters, no sight of Kalan let alone maudlin hugs (except for the quick glimpse of a shaggy head ducking into a taxi just prior to showtime)…but Creepy Josh Sleepsincar the eighth-place loser, hey, he’s heading straight for me! Thank you, Universe, thank you so bloody much!

No, I didn’t say anything. He was already giving off strong ‘Okgottagonowbuhbye’ vibes to the people he was talking to, so I contented myself with the view. Which promptly got me discontented all over again, because this guy looks like a 46-year-old trying to look younger except he can’t because he’s been out in the sun too long. Sigh. Maybe if I sacrifice a goat or something before my next foray into active Kalanmania, at Massey Hall…

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. anonymous
    Feb 14, 2005 @ 01:11:56

    Hey, Shoe. Even better than the first time. Never good to rush the muse…
    I kind of miss the well thought out posts at the forum (although I’m as guilty as the rest for one liners or short-shelf-life posts).

    Will you be posting recaps of whatever strikes you of AI4 and CI3? Hope so. (That’s the only way I’m likely to know anything going on with those programs – barring lightning striking twice.)

  2. rj_anderson
    Feb 14, 2005 @ 08:48:01

    unless maybe the kid’s visualising a flashlight and the back seat of a ’57 Chevy, and even then he’d need to be very creative, battery-wise.

    BWAH!!! I think my orange juice just came out my nose.

    Stupid Nifty LJ trick: when you have a really long entry, post the opening paragraph or two to let readers know what it’s all going to be about, and then when you’re getting into the body of the essay type [lj-cut] (only using the > and < brackets instead of the square ones) in front of the next paragraph. Finish up with the close tag [/lj-cut] at or near the end of the essay. That way people can just click on the link that says ([b]More…[/b]) if they want to read the whole essay, but they aren’t scrolling through five or six screens of text on their friends page to get to the next entry if they don’t have time to read a lengthy post just yet…

  3. shoebox2
    Feb 14, 2005 @ 09:06:46

    I’m not certain what’s going to happen with my CI2 recaps in terms of where and in what format, but there will definitely be some.

    AI4…can’t promise anything, primarily because the judges tend to make me hurl things and I just bought a new TV. I do try to catch at least one of the semifinal eps and one of the performance nights (usually Top 5 or later), so who knows.

  4. shoebox2
    Feb 14, 2005 @ 09:08:01

    Thanks much for the tip, that was actually something I was wondering how to fix…thanks too for the ongoing support. 🙂

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