Country's Piano Man: Phil Vassar

By Rob Greenwell

In today's concerts, artists like to make a grand entrance: a black stage, big pre-recorded entrance music, spotlight beams being thrown from one side of the room to the other, all in attempt to get the crowd into a frenzy. Consider, then, a concert where an artist is introduced but nothing happens until he comes on stage, sits down at his piano and starts the song. I immediately have two opinions in my head: either this guy is going to be extremely boring or he is very confident in his ability to take the crowd from a "cold" state to a "frenzied" state all by himself. In the case of the concert on October 4 at Coyotes, I had the feeling that this particular artist was confidant in himself not to need the "grand" entrance. I was right.

Phil Vassar played to an enthusiastic crowd, and he fed off the crowd's energy and enthusiasm all night long. He grabbed the crowd at the start with "Carlene," which is as good an opening song as any - although to this day I can't understand why that song never made it to #1. The rest of Vassar's show was high energy through and through. Even during the slow songs, the crowd grabbed the energy that Phil gave when he was hitting all the notes on songs like "Rose Bouquet."

He also did some of the tunes he wrote that other artists made into hits before he was able to get his own record deal, like For a "Little While" and "My Next Thirty Years" for Tim McGraw; "Bye Bye" and "I'm Alright" for Jo Dee Messina; "Right on the Money" for Alan Jackson and "Little Red Rodeo" for Collin Raye. He also performed his own number one hit, "Just Another Day in Paradise."

Vassar covered some old rock `n' roll songs - as many artists these days do - like "Workin' for a Livin'," "Play that Funky Music," but Vassar changed the song just for his own liking, singing instead, "Play that "Country" Music." All these songs made their way into an encore that was just an energetic as the show.

Vassar's band is filled with terrific Nashville musicians who know how to put on a show. During "Six Pack Summer," Phil and the band segued into the Jackson Browne hit version of "Stay, (Just a Little Bit Longer." As you might know, there is a very high vocal part, which Vassar doesn't sing, Instead, he handed it off to the bass player, belted out the high notes.

Vassar himself understands "show" - he made climbing onto his piano a mainstay of the concert, just as his clearly rock `n' roll favorites from his youth (Billy Joel, Elton John, Leon Russell) did. What I write doesn't do Phil Vassar's show justice: you need to see him live. Phew.