It’s really not fair. Those who attended Richard Marx’s concert on March 26, 2016 at the Ovations LIVE! Showroom at the Wild Horse Pass Casino in Chandler have aged, some gracefully, some not as gracefully, since they first heard Marx’s debut album back in 1987. But somehow Richard Marx remains as youthful as he did when he turned his songwriting and background singing abilities into a solo act almost 30 years ago. I had to double check my copy of his initial release, 1987’s self-titled “Richard Marx” to make sure Marx’s photograph on the album cover hadn’t aged ala Dorian Gray. Nope, the mullet was still there.
Although the mullet may no longer exist today, Marx’s ability to make the ladies swoon still in is full force. Marx’s voice is as strong as it ever was and when he sings one of his “sappy, pussy, ballads” (as he called them) the sighs from his female followers made it clear that their love affair with Marx has never ended.
It’s been awhile since Marx has played in the Phoenix area and when you have had fourteen Billboard Hot 100 Top 20 Hits over your solo career, plus have co-written several more hits with other artists, what to fill your 90 minute set with can be problematic. Marx chose a good sampling of his career, mixing the old hits with some of his newer material, plus a couple popular songs he had a hand in creating. “I go to concerts too,” Marx stated. “I know what you want.”
Opening with “Endless Summer Nights,” from his first album, Marx gave the audience what they wanted. Although the majority of the crowd would remain seated throughout the night, it didn’t stop their enthusiasm. There was plenty of lip synching and cell phones out to record the moment even if there wasn’t any dancing in the aisles.
Proof that Marx had captured his audience quickly was found in the second number “Satisfied.” Usually audiences aren’t quite ready to interact so early in a show, but Marx had the faithful loudly repeating what he sang when he engaged them in a call and response. “I kinda expected you guys to suck,” laughed Marx. No one in the audience will be mistaken for having Marx’s vocal abilities, but the energy was equal on stage and off.
A passionately sung “Angelia,” another number off of “Repeat Offender” (1989), followed. Then the hit parade jumped forward a few years to 1992’s “Take This Heart” before it was time to enter into new song territory.
A welcome part of Marx’s performance is hearing him relate anecdotes in regards to a particular song. For his 2011 hit, “When You Loved Me,” from the “Stories to Tell,” album, the audience learned that when Marx first heard it on the radio, “I love hearing my song on the radio,” stated Marx, he was pleased that it was sandwiched between a Maroon 5 and Lady Gaga number more so than if it was found on a classic rock station. Likewise, it’s always a pleasure to hear new material from an artist that lives up to the standards of the artist’s “classic work,” as “When You Loved Me” does.
Marx showcased his latest song, the yet to be released, “Last Thing I Wanted,” a tune Marx co-wrote with a pair of Nashville based songwriters. It’s a sign of how music genres have changed over the years. The song would easily qualify as a “country” song today even if it would not have back in 1987.
The audience got back into familiar territory with Marx’s “Hazard.” Again their mouths opened, this time to sing silently along to Marx’s tale about a Midwestern murder.
Abandoning his guitar, Marx took his spot behind the piano and played the ballad, “Turn Off the Night,” taken from his latest studio album, 2014’s “Beautiful Goodbye.” It was another strong newer song, rightfully belonging at this point of the program.
Remaining at the piano, with the band briefly on hiatus, Marx performed what arguably could be considered Marx’s greatest song he co-wrote, but did not record, Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father.” As emotional as Vandross’ version is, Marx was equally as riveting.
The mood lightened abit as Marx brought out his friend, Josh Havens, from the Christian pop group, The Afters, to help perform another Marx written, but not originally recorded song, N’Sync’s “This I Promise You.” Marx’s and Havens’ harmonies, along with help from keyboard player Steve Hornbeak, reminded the audience why this song works best when sung as a group.
The audience became part of the singing group for “Hold On to the Nights” helping Marx with the chorus. The song, which led into “Now and Forever,” received the loudest ovation, so far, of the night.
The original set ended with “Should’ve Known Better,” yet another hit from Marx’s debut album. Again, the crowd sang along, still seated, but engaged in what was going on in front of them.
As an encore, Marx treated his fans with “Don’t Mean Nothing,” Marx’s first number one single. The rocker should have gotten everyone off their seat, but only a few did. None the less, with J. Blynn’s blistering guitar work, which was stellar all evening, and Steve Hornbeak’s keyboards, it showed that Marx’s work should be remembered for much more than ballads.
But it was a ballad that ended the night, “Right Here Waiting For You.” Cell phones were again turned to record, the audience helped out one last time with the chorus, and finally, Marx was awarded with something he had deserved all night, a standing ovation.
Baseball’s Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel once said “the trick is growing up without growing old.” Richard Marx has managed to keep fresh his 30 year solo career by injecting exciting new material along-side his classic, timeless hits. All the while by still looking and sounding so young. Fair? He gets a pass by delivering a performance that made everyone feel young again.
Set List: Endless Summer Nights | Satisfied | Angelia | Take This Heart | When You Loved Me | Last Thing I Wanted | Hazard | Turn Off The Night | Dance With My Father | This I Promise You | Hold On To The Nights/Now And Forever | Should’ve Known Better |Encore: Don’t Mean Nothing | Right Here Waiting