Concert Reviews

Marriage Proposals, $16 Margaritas and Other Things Seen and Overheard at Chris Botti's Verizon Theatre Show

Let me make myself clear: I love Chris Botti's music. Not in an ironic or tongue-in-cheek way. Yes, Botti, the trumpet player who's played with everyone from Sting to Josh Groban to Steven Tyler. He's the kind of guy your parents love, along with Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand.

This admission might sound like a tragedy to those who have seen punk shows with me or have waxed philosophical about Creation Records. Credit my seven years as a trumpet player and nearly two decades of drumming as to why I could enjoy a concert like this. Also add in a soft spot for the loved/dreaded "smooth jazz" format: I worked for The Oasis for a couple of years, liked the tunes I heard in high school on the Weather Channel, have a tolerance for Kenny G to a fault and I have fond memories of driving around suburban New Orleans with George Benson on the radio.

Given my time around smooth jazz, a format that still has people hoping for its return to the terrestrial DFW airwaves, I expected to see a loyal audience with a considerable amount of disposable income. The kind that could talk about things that fall under the "First World Problems" category.

Coming into Botti's show at the Verizon Theatre, I thought it would be a relaxing evening with some jazz-prog odysseys. Turns out it was much, much more than that.

Botti played for two hours straight and was backed by a fantastic five-piece band, including drummer Billy Kilson. Giving his backing musicians plenty of opportunities to shine with solos, Botti was more of a grand marshal with the show. Plugging his forthcoming record, there was a mix of the old and new.

Here's a sampling of what I overheard and saw:

Joni Mitchell's reworked version of "Both Sides, Now" -- yes, the moving version you heard in Love, Actually -- played on the P.A. before the show.

Messages sent to the Verizon account for inclusion on the overhead projection screen: "Happy 26th Anniversary Cari"; "Case, will you marry me?"; "Sydney, will you marry me?; "Super Baby Wonder Fox is in the house."

Heard at the table serving wine: "Would you like a single or a double? There is no intermission."

Price of a large margarita: $16.

After hearing that they would play new material tonight, my friend Matt quipped, "Bathroom songs!"

Botti asked, "Do we have any Miles Davis fans out here tonight?" He then introduced "Flamenco Sketches" from Kind of Blue.

"Imagine Lisa Marie Presley looking fetching as she did in the video," he said before he performed Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone."

"When you're playing Guitar Hero, you're not playing a guitar," Botti said as he encouraged young musicians to work on actually playing an instrument instead of a video game.

"She's gonna blow your mind when she sings this," former Oasis DJ Cameron Smith whispered into the ear of a couple behind me, referencing guest vocalist Lisa Fischer. She sang in the same key Andrea Bocelli originally sang on "Italia." Not many people can sing that low. "Imagine Christina Aguilera doing a Barry White song," Botti said.

"That's the most bad-ass drummer I've ever heard in my life," Sting once said to Botti, in reference to Billy Kilson.

He asked a small group of preteen musicians to come sit in the front row. For an encore, he asked two of them to join him on stage behind the drums and piano. Botti asked the kid on the drums with a bowl haircut, "Where are your parents? Are they at the Justin Bieber concert?"

Botti joked that he grew up in "the jazz capital of the world: Oregon."

Recalling the time he played "My Funny Valentine" with Herbie Hancock at the White House, Botti was "the most pale person to play the trumpet."

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Eric Grubbs is a Dallas-based writer who has published two books, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 and When We Were the Kids. His writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Popdose, Fort Worth Weekly, The Dentonite and LA Weekly. He supports Manchester City and will never root for Manchester United.
Contact: Eric Grubbs