Polished Rawls enthralls
despite messy sound mix

Review by John Berger

Those familiar with Honolulu Symphony Pops concerts know that the show isn't over until concertmaster Ignace "Iggy" Jang leaves the stage. As long as Iggy is out there and the rest of the symphony is in position, there's always the possibility that the guest star and conductor Matt Catingub will return for an encore.

And so it seemed for a good long minute or two on Saturday night that Lou Rawls might return for another song with the symphony. Rawls, whose sharp gray-blue suit epitomized class as surely as his romantic baritone, had said good night after a polished 70-minute show.

The crowd was calling for more -- and, although a noticeable number of seats were empty, Rawls' fans were cheering loudly enough to make up for the no-shows.

Those familiar with protocol noted that Iggy was still out there. The crowd waited.

Rawls did, in fact, return, but only to thank the crowd a final time. But even without an encore, it was a great performance, and in all ways but one a great opener for the symphony's 2002-2003 pops season.

Rawls was as polished and entertaining as ever. His set was a near clone of his excellent show with the symphony at the Waikiki Shell in April of 1999, but about 10 minutes longer. It included almost all the same songs -- and there's nothing wrong with that, considering the number of songs that serious Rawls fans expect to hear. Rawls didn't disappoint, performing all his best-known pieces, a few that didn't chart high but remain popular ("Groovy People," for one) and a couple of "shoulda been hits."

"Love Is a Hurtin' Thing," "Lady Love" and "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" were highlights for his pop fans. No Rawls concert would be complete without "Tobacco Road." It was there, too.

Rawls also included his popular Sam Cooke medley (Rawls sang with Cooke in the '50s, remember?). He then stepped away from his romantic "saloon singer" repertoire with a powerful, tear-the-roof-off rendition of "Hoochie Coochie Man."

Rawls has been known for 40 years as a storyteller. His stories were also on target, although he delivered his classic intro to "A Natural Man" more as a recitation than in the conversational "pre-rap" style of his 1971 recording. His reminiscences about hanging out in the park and the stories told by a faded player known as "Old Folks" were as entertaining as ever. His comments about men, women and relationships also clicked with the crowd.

It was unfortunate, then, that there were so many problems with the sound mix. The sound crew succeeded for the most part in keeping Rawls' voice from being lost in the mix when the full symphony was playing behind him, but there were a number of times when he could barely be heard (the horn section also obliterated the work of the string section whenever the full orchestra was playing). The cleanest and most perfectly presented selections were those in which Rawls' quintet handled the instrumental responsibilities with an occasional assist from Catingub on sax; a vibes solo by Rawls' percussionist, Billy Hulting, was a perfect embellishment to Rawls' superb "I've Got a Room With a View of the Blues."

Guitarist David T. Walker distinguished himself on other numbers.

Similar problems also detracted several times from Reign's opening-act performance. The quintet -- Kale Chang, Loa Faimealelei, Tinifuloa Grey, Afatia Thompson and Kuhio Yim wore Samoan iefaikaga wraps instead of trousers and featured a Samoan-language song written by Grey's father, along with several songs from their self-titled debut album.

The guys' strength as an a cappella act was showcased in numbers that allowed full appreciation of their intricate vocal arrangements. But their voices were overwhelmed several times on numbers that involved the full orchestra. The work of steel guitarist Casey Olsen, who joined them on a medley of classic hapa-haole songs, was almost entirely obliterated by the horn section.

Except for problems with the sound mix, it was a great return performance for Rawls (who also performed with Catingub and the symphony on Friday and yesterday) and a significant step forward for Reign. The quintet is clearly on the way to becoming a unique attraction worthy of consideration by symphonies on the mainland and elsewhere.

And Iggy is still the guy to watch after the star leaves the stage at a pops concert.

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