Kalan Porter in concert: We can rebuild him. Better, stronger, louder…

So I sent around a PM to my forum the other day, announcing that I did not, repeat not, want to spend any more time trying to care about Kalan Porter. I threw around phrases like ‘moving on’ and ‘flapping my wings’ and generally stopped just shy of yowling “Free at last, Lord! Free at last!”

Then my good friend Margot offered me a free ticket to his show at the MOD club here in downtown T.O. (also the chance to see her again for the first time in ages). After which, my other good friend Monica informed the world at large that her life would be complete if only I wrote up a recap.

Clearly, step one in the Serious Writing Career is find some less caring and encouraging friends ASAP. I must have angst, people! Angst!

…hey, wait a minute…

So anyway, I went to the Kalan Porter concert.Along with a whole lot of other people. Not all of whom, I was relieved to note, were the same people as the last time I went to a concert, what is it, two years ago now? There were many fewer people that looked as if they’d been to many more concerts, if the drift is clear.
I also note that it’s become much easier to drag your boyfriend/dad/younger brother out to these things. (One little guy I saw threw me the most adorable ‘Yes, I read her diary…’ glance of despair.)

We settle in near the front right-hand side of the stage. This is a nice novelty; I think I’ve been right up front at an entertainment venue exactly once in my life, and the Blue Jays lost that one 9-1. Sure, the speaker set looms like an extra from a Schwarzenegger flick, but obviously it must be possible to be cool while your eardrums are bleeding or they wouldn’t bother, right? Uh, right?

Two degrees of Idol separation: Opening act Skye Sweetnam is managed by CI judge Zack Werner. Also, at one point Skye chirps that she and Kalan are actually distantly related ‘…out there in Saskatchewan…’ She trails it off there, inexplicably, leaving me to  picture curly-haired starlets popping up all over the prairie landscape like litters of kittens.

Anyway, Skye. Arrived on the scene at 14 billed as smarter than the average pop tartlet. Unfortunately, as we should all know by now, in the music business this is a vastly  self-defeating prophecy. She’s eighteen at this point, and the more commercially viable she becomes – the more fluffy curls and Stuff by Duff fashions – the more obvious it is that she is definitely too smart for this. (On the plus side, this entire tour should provide her with invaluably rich material for when she pulls the inevitable Alanis.)

For now, her music is always fun and sometimes clever, and her moves are endearingly unaware – at one point Margot commented that they were exactly like her teenage daughter’s, and after that I could not stop visualising a hairbrush in place of the mic. I was invested enough to be really sorry for her when the audience started SCREAM!ing at curtain twitches high above her stage. Even to the extent of not wanting to sock a couple of random boyfriends who started howling ‘We love you, Skye!!’ after the third song or so.

Pause for stage setup. Margot tells me that the one long-haired roadie who looks like he might have been married to Pamela Anderson pre-boob job has been named by the faithful – Bob, or Blunt, or something, my eardrums are already too perforated to catch it.
Anyway, I mentally dub him ‘Blot’, as in ‘…on the landscape’, for reasons that’ll become clearer later. When he starts literally wandering in and out of the encores like he either lost a contact lens or is hoping for fame as an urban legend on YouTube. (“Yeah, see that dude with the ’70’s hair? They say he was, like, this roadie who hung himself backstage! Now he haunts all the newbie singers – like that kid Kalan? His hair used to be straight, y’know.”)

Finally, many twitches later…OK, Whole Weird Area entering stage left, Cap’n!

This is the exact same Kalan Porter I saw win Idol three years ago. I mean, yes, of course this is the same Kalan Porter, but what I mean is, this is the exact same Kalan Porter. A bit bigger, maybe, and definitely more polished, but still…it looks like he hasn’t grown up so much as been painstakingly rebuilt. The Angel-O-Matic v.2.0.

Here he is, bounding into Karma King, a song that’s impossible not to read as cynical about his Idol experience, and I know what that experience has cost him and I want to be engaged by it all…but I can’t get any kind of foothold on that cherubic surface. This goes on throughout the show, the bemused conviction that there must be a rough edge here, somewhere. There must be a scar, a sneer, a sense of regret peeping out from the polished surface.

In a word: Nope. Years of patiently waiting and hoping and sacrificing coolness points right and left and my reward is nicer curls, a white shirt and school tie and Bittersweet Symphony. Sorry, but I officially don’t get it anymore.

At which I immediately feel fairly awful. The kid is sick – strep throat the previous week, apparently; you can hear the scratchiness, as much as you can hear anything – tired, nervous, whatever. He’s trying to perform a setlist that’s clearly designed for an arena in a box with a sound system that makes him sound like an introspective Donald Duck.

(Seriously. The sound system is mighty but totally messed up. I mean, in ways I’d never even heard before. By mid-show I was entertaining the possibility that they screwed up the sound system on the Matrix – or maybe the snark had ticked off Agent Smith – and I had been doomed to eternal life in Chipmunk World.)

Thing is, though, I didn’t sign up to still be making excuses three years later. Am left wondering if in the course of learning to relax, the kid hasn’t accidentally slackened some important artistic triggers. Before, he had no idea how to be anything but a musician, a Serious Artist, and it was the contrast between that intensity and the curls that made the whole endearing. Now that he’s much better at being a celebrity…I dunno, maybe he doesn’t need that outlet so much anymore.

It’s a double shame because it means that the between-song patter – the part I always found so annoyingly robotic before – is ironically wonderful. Not exactly inspired or anything, yet, but there’s promise, it’s loose. Just like his recent print appearances. OK, Kalan, here’s an out for both of us: if you ever do decide to take up that writing career, I promise to become your absolute, no-strings-attached No.1 supporter. Really. I’m even offering to proofread, if you like.

Anyway, back to reality. At one point he introduces his band by ethnic affiliation: South African drummer, Italian bassist, German-Turkish and Filipino guitarists, and “every band needs a token Japanese-Lithuanian” keyboardist. This is quite genuinely funny, not least because his band are also funny – in both the ‘hmmm’ and the ‘ha-ha’ sense –  and engaging, and lively.
Oh, and young. Too young, actually, to look this happy to be playing this kind of music. (Except maybe Kenny, the guitarist. I’ve known a lot of Filipinos and have yet to find one who isn’t making the best of things at least.) Could be they’ve managed to convince Skye of an old prairie tradition where family gets to, ahem, share the bandmembers…

There are a few musical spots that teeter on the verge of memorable, as defined as ‘still running through my head the next day’. Try is one of them, because it’s impossible to mimic the Beatles without being at least a little interested, and the lyrics demonstrate that nicely.

‘Turns onto Yonge as the radio blares/Sometimes it’s almost like somebody cares…’  Yeah, Kalan, almost. Almost.

Run Run Run: I don’t know, maybe it’s the inflection he gets on the title phrase. Reminded me a little of My Sweet One, from the first concert setlist – another spun-sugar ballad that he performs as if he knew it so intimately it hurts…Er, no, I have no idea what I just typed, either. Someone else once dubbed it the Weird Scathing Angst effect, and it’s the only time it shows up this night, so I’m prepared to sacrifice a few more coolness points.

Pause in here somewhere for the violin. Essentially, the single instrumental setpiece has been replaced with lots and lots of between-songs violin, and banging on drums, and guitarists preening, and all the other stuff that keeps a band happy and on point through an entire set of LiteFM. It’s just big ol’crashing waves of young-musician goodness, is what it is. Pity Kalan couldn’t have arrived at his present status via this enthusiastic, distinctive, disorganised route, rather than working backwards from the drippy pop; we’d all probably be a lot happier.

Destination (Where I Belong): Old habits die hard, apparently, because the news that every bit of salvageable material on the new CD has been bypassed in favour of anointing this most disposable of the rest the next single…it would bring out my inner Suicide Girl, except this is me we’re discussing, so I have to settle for an inner Muppet. “ANIMAL HATE MUSIC INDUSTRY! HATE PREFAB ON-DEMAND POP CULTURE!! BAD!! BAD!! ARRRGGHHHH!!!! [wham! wham! wham!]”

…following which, Kalan absentmindedly announces that they’re shooting ‘the other half of the video’ soon. It is taking every memory of every ounce of affection I ever had for him not to go for the obvious ‘because they can’t stay awake that long’ gag…

…uh, oops. Hey, at least I skipped the embellishments about it starring Britney…

Hurray: Well, it’s about damn time! In all seriousness, were I this kid I would be basically describing myself in public as ‘the guy who recorded this song, plus some other stuff I can’t quite remember what it was right now.’ My entire concert setlist would be this song interspersed with various U2 covers and maybe Try or Out of My Head as the encore.
You laugh? I retort that the exact instant this song started up, about six-eight tracks into the whole, the place came truly alive for the first time. The effect was of one of those commercials where the food’s all blah, everything’s in black and white, and then suddenly somebody tosses a can of cola or whatever and whoop! you’re in the Pepsi Generation!

Albeit maybe not so much with the dancing. Or, to my mild surprise, glowsticks. Except for this one single chick – I’m assuming, it could’ve been Tom Green suddenly developed subtlety – who was waving aloft a glittering plastic star. Think Harry Potter: The Disco Years. She was having a glowstick party and hers was the grandest of them all, is basically what was going on.

Not much more to add…oh, yeah, the encore did involve Out of My Head, but at that point it was way too late to try and throw me a sop. Mention the cancer before you get to the half-baked video stories, kid, then we’ll talk.

OK, OK, feeling bad again. The song is lovely, and the sentiment is undoubtedly very very real…but I’m really pessimistic that this won’t become a stock bit, to the point where audiences are cheering knowingly as it begins, like the After All schpiel. Kalan love, if you want to honour your mom’s struggle – as you surely do – then either take an extra moment to make it personal, real, or don’t say anything at all.

Finally, Surrender. I immediately revise my dream setlist: Hurray, then random U2, then this song, then repeat. What I have always loved about this number isn’t so much the performance itself, as that he’s just got that total zone thing happening. This is what he loves to do. This is, on all the evidence, what he wants to do. It is so completely antithetical to the soppiness fore and aft that I am left literally shaking my head. Admittedly, cancer in the family doesn’t tend to inspire raging rock anthems, but still…If he can’t figure out a way to combine the two, especially at age 21, I’m not sure what else to say.

Which is as good a place as any to shut up, for good and all, and just let the kid go on his way; violin dwindling slowly away as the band disappears and Blot stumbles back and forth lunging at towels.

Thanks, Margot; I can honestly say that hanging out with you – and, in a way, everyone I’ve met through this fandom – has been the best part of this whole experience by far.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoebox2
    Jan 01, 2001 @ 00:00:00

  2. shing_
    Oct 04, 2007 @ 09:39:54

    What a wonderful surprise to see you on my f-list this morning.

    So, I take it that you found the concert more on the meh side with a few bright spots? I had the opposite reaction to “Surrender”. I physically sagged and thought “crap, he’s doing this song again?”

    I arrived at the club pretty late and watched from the back so I missed seeing you and a ton of other people.

  3. shoebox2
    Oct 04, 2007 @ 20:58:44

    Thanks! It’s nice to be back.

    Yeah, that sums my take up pretty well. What you have to realise though, is that it’s my take. I didn’t see a lot worth getting worked up over (excepting Surrender, which is why I enjoyed it as much as I did)…however, near the end of the concert proper, I looked over to my right and a couple women nearby were sobbing openly. Kinda freaky.

  4. anonymous
    Oct 04, 2007 @ 22:25:16

    People actually wanted to write a review???? Surely they jest.

  5. shing_
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 09:26:13

    Sobbing openly? Really? That is freaky and creepy and, just, no.

  6. anonymous
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 23:29:00

    Quite a long writeup for not saying a lot.

    Anyway, I quite enjoyed watching a Kalan concert again. It’s been way too long. I wish the sound system had been a lot better as it was really hard to hear. I can’t say I agree with you when you say the crowd only woke up when Kalan sang Hurray. But then, I can’t say I agree with you on most of what you wrote.

  7. shoebox2
    Oct 05, 2007 @ 23:59:19

    **Quite a long writeup for not saying a lot.**

    Hey, it’s what I do. 🙂

    I don’t mind in the slightest being disagreed with, although it’d be nice to be quoted accurately. Sure, there were SCREAMS! all the way along, that’s what happens at a Kalan concert. Never meant to imply otherwise.

  8. anonymous
    Oct 06, 2007 @ 04:59:05

    Hey Shoe! Retrop here. Picked you up in a google alert – which I thought was funny cuz, of course, it was a KP alert. Anyway, still enjoying the snark. I haven’t been to any concert, but I always love your not-easily-amused take on the whole thing. From my vantage point, I think the boy is slooowly getting somewhere. I find myself singing a number of the songs at random times. Definitely see Karma King as his take on CI and aftermath of dropping out to be with his mom. I’m hoping he’s still working at it as he approaches 30, cuz he still seems young and (despite his comments to the contrary) doesn’t quite know who he is yet.

  9. shoebox2
    Oct 06, 2007 @ 14:30:33

    Retrop! [hugs] Hi! I’m on Google alerts? This is so cool.

    Yeah, I think you’re right. There are bits and pieces of the new CD that represent definite building blocks…if he wants to use them, that’s the key. Am hoping that the artistic complacency I saw that night was actually (as has been suggested to me several times since I wrote the above) a matter of sheer joyous relief.

  10. anonymous
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 21:05:53

    Hey, you don’t think you can get rid of us kind and encouraging friends that easily, do you?! Seriously, your company made an enjoyable evening all the more so. As well as helping a confirmed suburbanite through the transit system, your ‘detachment’ and natural snark helped me keep some semblance of objectivity.

    We will agree to differ on Kalan’s continuing appeal. Perhaps I was never so anxious that he develop a natural ‘edge’, and am quite content with maturing musicianship (instrumental and writing). Complacency over singing … not so much. But perhaps thats more a decision to stop striving for perfection at the risk of never being happy?

    Oh BTW, Kenny and Blot’s real names are Ricky and Bungee. Yeah, I’m still lost in the Vortex, aren’t I?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: