Rick Astley Plays Cleveland House Of Blues

April 23rd, 2018

Pop icon Rick Astley rolled into Cleveland for the first time ever last night.  He played to a very passionate House of Blues crowd, bringing his blue-eyed soul and Southern Gospel-tinged tunes to the 216 for the very first time in his 30-plus year career.

Astley, a staple on most rock stations on the FM dial in the late '80s and early '90s, played a sixteen-song set, punctuated by a handful of tunes from his latest album, 50.  That 2016 release's title was a reference to his age.  But if he's getting older, you sure couldn't tell by his voice: He's got the chops of a much-younger singer and the stage presence to match that of a much older performer.  Equal parts Tom Jones and Wayne Newton, the British pop star had an easy-going banter with his audience, who was comprised of both men and women whose median age was about the same as the title of the last record. 

 

And please, Mr. Astley, don't take the comparisons to Jones or Newton as a genre-defying insult; both of those men have two of the best stage shows I've ever seen.  If Astley is getting a little, um, older, it doesn't show in his ability to hold an audience in the palm of his hand.  The tunes from 50 showcase a more mature singer, and the Southern lilt to the music reflects a performer who is comfortable where he is on his path. "This Old House," the song that opened last night's show, showcased a mature voice, still capable of hitting whatever note the tune required.

Offering up "Keep Singing," also from the new album, his eighth studio release, perhaps sums up his attitude about his recent birthday:

"Keep singing, whoah, I keep singing
Praising to the heavens with my voice ringing
Keep singing, whoah, I keep singing
Clap to the beat till my hands are stinging
And I'd be saved some sunny day
From throwing my life, throwing my life away..."

 

Was the song a bit of advice for his children?  A treatise on how to handle old age? Or, perhaps, a message to his detractors and the whole ridiculous "Rick Roll" phenomenon?

No matter what the answer, it was a phenomenal tune that came very early in the show. He then told the audience that those who needed to catch a bus home were gonna be late for it because he was keeping the song that "everyone came to hear" for the end; an encore, of course, to end all encores. 

He made good on that promise ninety minutes later when he, um, rolled out "Never Gonna Give You Up" to a sea of cell phones held up to record that moment.  

But in between that raucous ending and his other mega-hit, 1988's "Together Forever," offered early in the show, was a performance by a singer who brought out the blue-eyed soul and made us remember what made him so special to begin with.  This guy can sing.  Age hasn't withered his voice.  His dance moves, self-described as "weak," were pretty good for a pasty white dude from England. 

He threw a few surprises our way throughout the evening as well.  Early in the mix, he decided to cover an Ed Sheeran tune, "Shape of You."  The audience responded spectacularly to a new song being handled by someone twice Sheeran's age.  In perhaps the best moment of the night, Astley stepped out from behind the mic stand, grabbed a pair of drumsticks and took his place behind the kit.  Starting his career as a drummer, he ably handled the duties on the drum riser.  Asking the crowd if they "Wanted to hear some real rock and roll," he and his band launched into a fantastic cover of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell."  Who would've expected that at a Rick Astley concert?

It's a shame that his career has recently been defined by the Youtube "Rick Roll" phenomenon.  Maybe the 2007 "prank" video has given a resurgence to his popularity, but whatever the case may be, it's good to see him touring again.

Backed up by a drummer, bass, lead guitar, keys and two excellent vocalists, Astley made an impression on those gathered at HOB.  It was his first time, by all recollections, that he's ever played Cleveland. 

He made up for that omission last night.  Let's hope it's not another thirty years before he returns; I doubt his dance moves will be much good by then.

But, oh, that voice.

 

Photos and Review by Brian M. Lumley
 

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