Opening the show for Justin and his backing band The Saturday Saints, was the winsome duo of Liah Alonso and Kelly Halloran:"Left on Red". These women created quite a local following busking in subways, but have grown many more fans as they tour. Those followers were right because Left on Red rocks!
Lots of video and pics after the jump...
After waiting in the stairwell to the second floor theater for half an hour, the hot but unusually patient (for New Yorkers) crowd began to wonder aloud why we couldn't at least go in, sit down, take of our coats, and order one of our two-drink-minimums?
Thankfully, once the doors did open, everyone quickly settled in, and about 10 PM, Left on Red came out and got our feet stomping to their rousing rendition of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues. They followed it up with a song from their album "Tracks" called "Set Me Free", with pretty harmonies and a catchy violin riff. Unfortunately the small stage kept Kelly mostly standing still during her solos; there wasn't much room to jump around without stomping on equipment.
Next they played their anthemic crowd pleasing sing-along "Two Drinks Away From Gay". The appreciative audience was clearly having a blast, and Liah and Kelly immediately notched up the excitement by following it with the classic Charlie Daniels Band fiddling show-down "The Devil Went Down to Georgia".
Their final song of the night was another original, the humorous, but moving "Jack and Jill", a song about mom and dad's pretty young girl not meeting up with their (or society's) expectations:
I fell down from their Heaven this angel didn't fit me too well
I lost my halo and wings when I escaped from hell
This angel they expected to see
Grew up and turned into me
As soon as the women untangled their spaghetti-cords and left the stage to great applause, Justin Utley strode onstage alone with his guitar, and after a brief self-introduction assuring us the conversion therapy didn't work, gave us all the passion and earnestness he is known for in "Shades of Gray" from his first album "Runaway".
Next he brought out his backing band, The Saturday Saints (not the Toronto group with the same name), and they performed a trio of similar themed songs that are indicative of the earnest Utley style:
"Nothing This Real" the title track from the new album, followed by "Great Escape" (he showed genuine surprise when some audience members recognized it and sang along), and "Stand For Something", his Out Music award-winning song hitting on a host of activist topics, like voting rights, respect, dignity, and homelessness.
These songs are good, they are catchy, and easy to sing along to. To anyone who is recently out, or struggling with all the issues surrounding coming out, wanting to escape small-town small mindedness, or trying to make sense of first loves and lost loves, they really mean a lot.
Me, I can't help hearing something a little Blowfishy, and I am expecting more from this versatile hunk of musical talent. I believe that as his old LDS days fade into the distance, the everyday struggle of trying to pay New York City bills, maybe having to compromise on love, and finding out that even with total equality and acceptance life may get better, but doesn't necessarily get easier, Mr. Utley is going to stop looking in that rear view mirror, and then he will bring us some true new material with teeth. I expect it to punch us in the gut or grab us by the balls. It may make us cry, it may even be gloriously uplifting. But it will turn more heads and prick up more ears, and it will still be authentic Utley. And I'll be sitting in the front row.
Here, Justin has fun with the classic Radiohead song "Creep"
Happily greeting his many fans after the show
Justin Utley website
Left on Red website
Triad Theater website