The cozy crowd of 1,600 fans was large in its enthusiasm at Wednesday’s Daughtry concert at Robinson Auditorium – and not just for the headliner. Opener Mike Sanchez, a talented singer-songwriter, and pop-rock quartet SafetySuit excelled in getting the crowd sufficiently revved up. In fact, many of the late-teen and 20-somethings were clearly more jazzed about SafetySuit than the headliner.
In his opening remarks, Daughtry’s namesake, Chris Daughtry, thanked the audience for, "coming out tonight instead of staying home and watching whatever’s on TV." Ironically, what was on television was the latest incarnation of the television behemoth, “American Idol.” The man and his band took the stage and were warmly welcomed by audience members who likely cheered and voted for his success on the show’s 2006 season. His fourth-place finish there was certainly enough to launch his career.
Daughtry announced that the show would be filled with music from the band’s third and latest album, “Break This Spell,” perhaps to keep audience members from expecting only a review of his hit parade. Even so, he sprinkled in the biggest hits from his first two albums to remind us he’s not the newest kid on the block – or on the ticket.
Despite booking a smaller venue and attracting about a third what the band drew in its 2009 Verizon Arena appearance, Daughtry put on a big show.
With a backdrop bearing its name and set decor resembling chunks of concrete, Daughtry opened with two new songs, “Renegade,” followed by the album’s title track. “Crawling Back to You” has recently climbed the charts and was enthusiastically welcomed next. Before playing another new one, “Outta My Head,” Daughtry said fans should be hearing it on radio stations any day now.
The older hit song, “What About Now,” was dedicated to the needs of humankind. Video clips of humanitarian efforts flashed on the backdrop as the lyrics urged the audience to take action: “What about now, what about today?” The last shot of the video announced that $1 of every tour ticket sold would be donated to Malaria No More, an organization fighting the disease worldwide.
The audience responded well to the hits “Over You,” from the first album, and “No Surprise,” from the second. The band added its own rock-style stamp to a fun cover of Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream,” and Daughtry showed tremendous vocal range, power and control on “September,” the last song before the encore, “It’s Not Over.”
Sanchez (not to be confused with the long-haired Razorback basketball player) is touring with Daughtry in support of his new album, “Third & Grove Sessions,” which he plugged as being available on iTunes. The strong-voiced and personable guitar player harmonized nicely with his keyboard player and engaged the crowd well for being the pre-pre main event.
SafetySuit was a pleasant surprise. As most concert-goers know, the opening act is usually something to endure and applaud politely until the headliner takes the stage. Not so with SafetySuit. The four-man engine, led by the hyperactive and gregarious Doug Brown, generated significant energy and excitement with its rock anthems, powerful lyrics and tight cadence.
Brown left the stage and communed with the audience on several songs, posing for phone-snapped pictures. And after the closing song, “Stay” – a radio hit that reached No. 1 on VH1’s countdown last year – Brown told the crowd he’d “meet you all at the (merchandise) table,” and ran out of the theater. Throngs followed him. At the end of the show, 90 minutes later, he and the other Suits were still in the lobby greeting fans and posing for photos.
It’s not over for Chris Daughtry and his band, but clearly their draw has lessened since 2009. Even so, those in attendance Wednesday night got a first-rate show by three hard-working acts that have talent in spades.