Kris Allen, Jillette Johnson rock Denver

Kris+Allen%27s+second+studio+album%2C+%22Thank+you+Camellia%0APhoto+by+Hannah+Tooley

Kris Allen’s second studio album, “Thank you Camellia Photo by Hannah Tooley

I risked my life last Thursday, Feb. 21, and for once it wasn’t to drive to school on a should-have-been snow day. No, I risked my life driving through a snow storm for Kris Allen, and it was totally worth it.

Kris Allen's second studio album, "Thank you Camellia Photo by Hannah Tooley
Kris Allen’s second studio album, “Thank you Camellia
Photo by Hannah Tooley

At the Soiled Dove Underground in Denver, about two hundred fans packed into the venue ready for the much anticipated return of singer-songwriter Kris Allen and his opening act, Jillette Johnson. The intimate venue, which saw no use for binoculars, was filled with tables and chairs set up in cozy tiers, like a living room shared with the performers.

As Jillette Johnson stepped up to the lone piano on stage, the pre-show chatter continued in the audience, as it does with most opening acts. However, as soon as she opened her mouth and sang, the crowd instantly went silent. Johnson’s intricate melodies and poetic lyrics brought everyone into her world like her song “Cameron”, which is about a boy who feels more comfortable in lipstick, or her song “Basset Hound”, which is about stalking someone. Her tone was like waves; I never knew what note her voice would hit, and her dynamics ranged from raspy whispers to clear-as-a-bell wails. Basically, if Florence Welch and Regina Spektor had a love child, it would be Jillette Johnson. When her 45-minute set ended, many people gathered around the merchandise table to buy her EP, Whiskey & Frosting, and get the chance to talk with her for a few minutes. There were definitely more than a few guys trying to pick her up afterwards, but who could blame them.

Photo by Hannah Tooley
Photo by Hannah Tooley

After a short intermission, Kris Allen entered the stage in his signature plaid shirt, and the crowd erupted into cheers. The first song he performed was “Out Alive”, which is also the name of his tour. Though it was a relatively calm song to start with, the song showed off Allen’s range, especially with the ending key change. He then launched into the pop-ditties “Better With You” and “Alright with Me” which got the crowd clapping and participating in a “yeah, yeah, yeah” sing along. This helped set the tone for the rest of the show.

Jillette Johnson joined Kris Allen on stage to perform the duet “Loves Me Not” and it was definitely one of the high points of the night. Allen’s sweet tone mixed perfectly with Johnson’s smokey voice, making an amazing pulled-pork sandwich of a song. Oh god, where’s this review going.

One tune that got a big response was Kris’ mash up of George Michael’s “Faith” and Fun.’s “We Are Young”. This jam brought the older members of crowd and the youngins together, since everyone knew at least some of the words.

Another highlight of the night was the never-before-performed, B-side “Fighters”, an original Allen song about fighting to survive and to have a happy life. A fan in the audience had requested it earlier in the day on Facebook, and Kris personally bowed and thanked her, so that moment was probably pretty special for her.

He also performed a new song titled “Paul Simon” which has a Charlie Brown-esque piano riff. Although the lyrics never mention Paul Simon, you can tell that the melody and percussion are reminiscent of Simon’s work.

The darker side of Kris Allen’s songwriting is shown in his song, “Monster”. This song showed off the band’s cohesiveness, as they extended the bridge and the ending an extra two minutes by jamming and adding on to one another as the song reached its climax. As they played, Kris was messing with the sound box at his feet, so he could record sound loops of his wolf-sounding howls, and his vocals could be repeated and overlapped making it sound pretty trippy. Although the lyrics, “Did I ever think to tell you that I am a monster/ You have never seen this side of me” elicited an “Isn’t this a Christian show?” from the ladies behind me, the band’s musicianship made everyone shut up and appreciate the performance.

One of my personal favorites, “Rooftops” also showed off the band’s talents during their solos. Andrew St. Marie riffed soulfully on the piano, Chris Torres, affectionately called “Latin Jesus” by the fans, delivered an Animal-like drum solo, and Cale Mills’ call-and-response on the guitar with Kris scatting was jazz-alicious. Even though Kris himself wasn’t able to play guitar because of a car crash earlier in the year, he still rocked his tambourine for most of the set.

From the heartbreaking ballad “Leave You Alone” to the fan-favorite radio hit “Live Like We’re Dying”, the crowd kept up every step of the way. The mix of ballads and up-tempo songs was very evenly balanced throughout the night, so it didn’t allow for any low points.

The onstage banter between the band members and the audience also reflected the living-room feel of the venue. Kris confessed that he was happy to see some guys in the audience, even if it was just because their wives and girlfriends drug them along. Later, his sincere speech about his experiences in Kenya made even me (the poor student) and my penny-pinching mom go sponsor a child through his World Vision charity after the show. All of it showed how comfortable the performers were with the audience.

Well, not surprisingly after all of this, the crowd cheered for an encore. Kris Allen covered both “The River” by Garth Brooks, acappella, and then launched into The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” with the rest of the band. He ended the night with his own rockabilly song called “Shut That Door”, which got the crowd moving and cheering along.

The only disappointing part of the concert was that the table-and-chairs seating arrangement made the crowd a little too comfortable; it wasn’t until the very last song that the women left their male companions to dance in front of the stage.

 

Photo by Hannah Tooley
Photo by Hannah Tooley

The whole experience overall had me feeling happy and dazed as I left with a fist bump from Kris Allen, a signed T-shirt, and an adrenaline rush to keep me from driving off the road as I made my way back home. Although it was lower-key than most of the concerts I’ve been to, this one is definitely one I’ll remember for a very long time.

By Hannah Tooley