OK, let’s get this out of the way: Richard Marx has written a ton of hit songs.
Some of them he sang, others he gave away.
Some were bigger than others. Some rocked harder than others. Some have lasted better than others.
So when you go to a Richard Marx concert, as about 2,000 people did on Sunday night at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, you have an idea of what you’re gonna get.
Those hits? He played pretty much all of ‘em. (“Keep Coming Back” was the biggest omission.) Some newer stuff most in the audience had never heard and some album tracks? Of course. Songs he wrote for others? Many of them, real highlights of the evening. And yes, even a cover or two (The “two” being the piece of the Bobby Caldwell classic “What You Won’t Do for Love” that Marx unexpectedly broke into when he moved from guitar to piano.)
The hits are great. Marx and his band performed them with a little more bite, more edge than you’ll hear on the radio — “Should’ve Known Better,” in particular, which had its jazzier riffs replaced with heavier rock guitar.
But what made the evening so enjoyable was Marx’s charisma, his generosity with his personal thoughts, his willingness not to take himself too seriously, to take an honest look at things he’s done or thought and laugh at himself. Oh, and he’s also a pretty great storyteller.
All of those traits rolled into one ‘80s pop star made for a show of rare intimacy. Sure, Marx used old concert standbys such as the singalong, the call and response and the encore, but he also told a sneezing fan, “Bless you;” accepted lei from two women in the front row, granting them each a peck on the cheek; and identified with his audience, saying he’d keep the non-hits to a minimum since, after all, he’s a music fan who goes to concerts too, and he hates it when the acts stray too far from their hits.
In short, he connected.
And by the way, did I mention those stories?
Some were tender — such as when he introduced “Save Me,” from the 2008 album “Emotional Remains,” by talking about how it’s one of his sons’ favorites, then proceeded to perform it while backed by a montage video of the three, now in their 20s, playing along.
Others were funny, such as the ego-crushing, “how I know I’m old” tale of working with boy band ’N Sync at the height of their popularity. (He wrote and produced their hit ballad “This I Promise You,” which he did a fine job on Sunday night.)
And some were both, such as when Marx talked about how he wrote “Dance with My Father” with the late Luther Vandross. Chickenskin spread through the hall as he spoke of penning a signature song with one of his closest friends, sharing a Grammy for Song of the Year, only to see him die shortly thereafter.
That turned to laughter when Marx explained that for a long time he could not perform the song at shows because it made him too sad that he so missed his friend, before finally realizing in the shower one day that he was being a “dip(stick)” and that singing Vandross’ tribute to his father would be the perfect way to honor the legendary soul singer and to keep his legacy alive.
The two-hour concert was filled with moments such as those, ones that took the show to another level, from hitfest to something closer resembling a dinner party, with Marx and his pals hosting 2,000 of their closest friends.
One of the coolest bits of banter came three songs in, when Marx broke the show wide open by telling the audience to throw out any house rules about taking pictures and video. “I put (stuff) in my hair, I picked out this shirt — I WANT you to take pictures of me,” he declared. “Shoot all the pictures and videos you want. Put ‘em on YouTube and social media!”
After the unnecessary promotional video that opened the show and a business-like run through “Endless Summer Nights,” “Take This Heart” and “Satisfied,” that was just what the audience needed to loosen up. (That Marx sipped on a martini throughout didn’t hurt.)
Marx had the whole place hanging on his every word and lustily joining in on the many singalongs, right through his half-hour encore, which kicked off with a fantastic solo acoustic cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain” and continued with the pairing of two of his biggest ballads, “Hold On to the Nights” and “Now and Forever” — he introduced the two by saying, “If you know these songs, please … don’t join in. You’ll ruin it.”
The show wrapped with his first hit — “Don’t Mean Nothing” — and his biggest — “Right Here Waiting.” Marx moved between his guitars and his piano throughout the night, and on the finale even moved from piano to guitar mid-song to end the show on a rousing note.
His voice has grown a tad raspier over the years, but Marx was in fine voice throughout. His band was tight. Sure the music is ultimately what matters, but his connection with the audience was what turned a perfectly nice show into what easily could have been billed as “An Intimate Evening With Richard Marx.”