Colton concert more sugar than substance

Greeted by a sparse audience of lovebird couples and gaggles of girls, Graham Colton walked on stage a little after 9 p.m. last Thursday in Baxter Hall to sing acoustic renditions off his new album, Here Right Now. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with a little sweet tooth tunes every now and then, but Colton’s performance at the ACE-sponsored musical event for Valentine’s Day took a bite out of my sanity. If eardrums were made of enamel, the evening’s music would have reduced mine to a sorry state.

The 26-year old singer-songwriter hails from Oklahoma City, Okla., where he played football for his high school team and led them to a state championship. He then attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he began to pursue a musical career seriously, performing in local cafes and pubs. Colton’s first big break was with the Counting Crows on their 2002 tour. Later, his self-titled band toured with the likes of Dave Matthews Band, Guster and John Mayer. I had been pretty excited, picturing an acoustic session comparable to Mayer’s Village Sessions or Continuum, or a lower-key version of Matthews’ Live at Luther College.

Colton’s blue-eyed good looks, topped off with a clean white shirt, a navy vest, and hipster jeans were charming enough. Charming enough, it turns out, for Kelly Clarkson, whom he reportedly had dated, a fact that was brought to my attention with great gusto by a member of the audience later in the evening.

As it turned out, the package itself did not match up to its pretty wrapping paper. From the opening chords of the first song, “Telescope,” I had the distinct impression that what I was listening to belonged not in a blues cafe, but rather on a teen reality show akin to Laguna Beach. This sense resonated particularly strongly during the oft-repeated lyric describing how a toolish male character comes home after an extended absence to woo his lady love, only to realize that she has taken up board with another tool, and then the first tool proceeds to gaze broodingly into the distance.

It came as no great surprise to discover that Colton’s music was featured in an episode of Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County, MTV’s most recent reality show about rich high school students getting into cat fights on the beach and spending their parents’ money.

Colton counts among his musical influences Tom Petty, early REM and Oasis; the latter especially was obvious because one of his songs, “Jessica”, was definitely channeling a bit of “Wonderwall”. Colton’s chord schemes were nice, but basic; it would be good to see some deviation from the three-chord pop-rock standard.

Colton interspersed the set with awkward pauses and goofy comments, including a lengthy and unnecessary monologue on the evils of generic Red Bull and inquiries about the dining hall’s chimichangas. Finally, Colton mentioned a visit to The Red Herring prior to the show, which sparked the interest of some of the female members of the audience, who were purportedly celebrating a birthday. A coy invitation for him to accompany them later gave him a chance to interact with the audience, and lessened the tension in the atmosphere. He sheepishly apologized for the fact that some of his songs were “downers”, then, suddenly turning bitter, used a choice five-letter expletive when referring to an ex-girlfriend who had been the inspiration for “Jessica”.

A particularly cringe-worthy moment occurred when Colton, during a Tom Petty cover, “I Won’t Back Down”, experienced a puberty-moment mid-high note. He promptly stopped playing and instead began prattling on about Petty’s impending disapproval. It was painful to watch. To his credit, however, he did manage to pick himself back up and finish the song, to enthusiastic applause from the audience, which had increased in size since the show’s beginning.

This enthusiasm carried him through to about the end of the show, at which point he made the faux pas of asking if anybody had bought, burned or copied his new album. When, after a delayed reaction, only two tentative hands rose up, Colton jokingly begged the audience to buy the album, saying that it would pay for his bus ticket back home. Later, he thanked the audience for staying, saying that it was a “huge deal,” a comment which one would not expect out of someone who had opened for John Mayer.

This latest event certainly added to the variety of the music scene at Williams, but turned out to be a little less than truly satisfying, and in the end left more of a cavity than a sweet aftertaste in the mouth.