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James Durbin Returns to the Boardwalk a Year After His 'American Idol' Success

No one can say that Durbin has sold out. He played the metal he loves with no pop compromises.

Sleek, blonde and full of metal, James Durbin looked every bit the rock star as he played the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Saturday to about 3,000 fans Saturday.

Yeah, that was a tenth of the audience that packed the place last year for Durbin Day, just after he got voted off the pop star island, but these fans were the loyal Durbinators who were there to support him no matter what.

It's amazing the difference a year makes. Or rather, a year off TV.  Fans of the tube have a short attention span for most everything, even the stars who ruled their world 12 months ago.

But Durbin threw down the glove and played the music he loves: heavy metal, not TV pop. This wasn't metal lite, either. His band of five layed down a heavy backing, sounding almost like young Sabbaths or Priests. The biggest problem was, however, for metal or pop, there just weren't enough hooks to make the songs stick.

He ran though most of his debut album, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, but live the songs lacked the punched-up production values of the disc and fell a bit flat in a sonic wall of mush.

His voice, particularly on the falsettos, was stellar and brought to mind a mix of Geddy Lee from Rush and Ronnie James Dio, but in this setting, it was hard to hear the subtleties that made him an Idol hit. Too much of it just blended together.

His cover of Dio's  "Rainbow in the Dark" was the set's strongest song, well-written and with a hook solid enough to catch a killer whale.

But either the band lacked the ability to make the songs shine or the songs just didn't have the singalong quality live that they do on the disc.

The fans loved them, however, cheering loudly after each, so the hour-long show was mostly a success. But that may not be easy to see when you compare this to the unbridled enthusiasm from 30,000 people a year ago.

You've got to give Durbin credit for not selling out in the least. He could have slowed things down, hammed it up, come up with more pop songs that would please the TV fans. But he played metal, something that is diametrically opposed to everything "American Idol" is about.

He may not be close to selling out arenas on his own yet, but the fact that he wouldn't water down or commercialize his artistic vision gives one hope that he may still set the world on fire.

He's got the performing talent. His debut album has sold 106,000 copies in six months, which is admirable, if not stellar. It buys him time to keep touring, writing and working.

It may take a while, but I wouldn't doubt that he'll hit on a formula that will let him play what he loves and what a bigger audience loves also.

Crystal Wright May 20, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Some of this article is true...and some of it ...well ,its bs..lets just put it that way !!!! Not EVERYONE wants to hear CHESSY ASS MOFO idol bs & his music aint ALL METAL in the least its ROCK ....REAL MOFO ROCK and whoever dont like it can keep on watching chessy ass mofo IDOL!!!HE was TOO good for IDOL. BTW I saw him live this past Wed. and HE WAS GREAT!!! ALL the songs were great and they are the songs on his album so why would he play some pop songs anyway??? Trust me, he has many, MANY fans and is well on his way to becoming a ROCK GOD !!!! \m/ ....peace
Debi Boring May 20, 2012 at 10:43 PM
3000 fans? Sure seemed like a LOT more than that to me!!! You gotta realize, when he was on the show, LOTS of people were watching and were shocked when he got voted off. His Durbin Day was BIG news... even before he got voted off. Many, many more people knew about him being at the Boardwalk. Most people that have gone to the Friday Night Concerts (or who are aware of them) know that they happen on FRIDAY NIGHTS... not Saturday and I bet you anything, had he been given one of the Friday Night slots... there would have been a TON more people. Unless you read the paper or follow on facebook or catch the occasional commercial, I think a lot of people were unaware that he even was playing. I'm very proud of our hometown boy. His whole life has changed in a year and he's only beginning....
Carolyn May 20, 2012 at 11:00 PM
James is loved for his voice, his fantastic personality, and he is HIMSELF--not trying to be somebody else-He is loved by many for all these things. I am in Georgia, but would have come the Durbin Day if I could have afforded it--AND I would not have know about it at all if I was not a LOYAL fan! James shines in ALL ways. He is the REAL DEAL!
aj May 21, 2012 at 12:15 AM
This is a much better review than the Sentinel provided. I was there and really enjoyed James and his band. It was fun with a lot of great energy. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and I'm not a metal fan, however, I agree that the Rainbow in the Dark song was memorable. The concert made for great entertainment and It was totally worth the 5 hours sitting on the sand waiting. I got a teensy spot and my husband couldn't sit next to me so he got a teensy spot about 8 feet away. I'm not sure about the 3,000 number because I think there were more people. I was at his Boardwalk concert last year and while it wasn't 30,000, it was pretty darn packed by the time he came on. Anyway, good review. Wonderful time was had by all. I'm so glad I live in Santa Cruz.
Eleanor Gorman May 21, 2012 at 02:50 AM
I have to say, we kept hearing people at the concert talk about how good James and the band were, even that they were surprised a bit, at how great the band was. So, I think this review is 'under' written, quite a bit. I was there and also think 3000 is a low number. Great show, period.
Donna Richardson May 21, 2012 at 03:20 AM
I was not there but have had the chance to listen to videos posted on You tube .. It made me sad that I was not one of those lucky fans that were able to attend . James & his band sounded awesome . I can only imagine how it sounded live . I am not sure what else you expected from there performance ? I live in Canada & I plane on flying to Santa Cruz for Durbin Day #3 . NO OTHER artist has ever made the impact that James has on me & probably never will ! Proud to be part of his OUTCASTARMY ! Rock On James \m/
Debbie Sparks May 21, 2012 at 03:51 AM
James IS setting the world on fire. Everywhere he plays, his loyal fans video & record the legions of fans he is winning, people who have never watched Idol are won over by his pure talent, and incredible stage presence. His band playing real rock is gathering quite the following as well. people in his hometown may not realize yet that they have a rockstar in their midst, and they were incredibly lucky to get him to perform. his rise is not orchestrated by handlers & marketers. he's building a solid fan base throughout the country, and throughout the world. if Santa Cruz can continue to book James, it will be because James is loyal...not because he needs the gig..js
Nancy Revelle May 21, 2012 at 08:33 PM
I was there - and if the author was, it doesn't sound like he was paying attention. James was PERFECTION throughout the entire set and for someone to say that the band - and Dylan Rosenberg especially - didn't have what it took to make the songs shine, is - and I'm having trouble coming up with a G-rated response here - total crap. The whole set was exciting and vibrant and alive with the creative energy James excels in capturing and projecting. He hit every note - and by the way, James used a falsetto only in the sit-down encore of "May" - everything else is full on - showing off his incredible 5-octave range. James AND the awesome band he's put together are an in-your-face PROFESSIONAL rock band now - and this show proved it in spades.
Brad Kava (Editor) May 21, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Below is James' tour schedule so far, opening for Buckcherry. The guy has all the talent in the world and as I said in the story, he will probably one day be a headliner. But in the music business selling 100K albums and opening for Buckcherry is more like barely hanging on than setting the world on fire. As for Nancy's comment, Yes I was there, and posted the video and pictures to prove it. Hey, I tried to pay attention, but kept waiting for a musical hook that stuck in my head. What I got was a lot of songs that showcased a good singer but didn't have the crowd singing or dancing or on fire. If that was perfection, I'd wonder what you would say about the Rolling Stones or Beatles or Ozzy Osbourne. I wish him all the good will in the world, but refuse to fawn over someone just because they are local. PS: The songs are better on the album than live. Eventually, with a great artist, it goes the other way. I do think James will get there. The difference will be in picking or writing more great songs. http://www.pollstar.com/resultsArtist.aspx?ID=253778&SearchBy=james%20durbin
Debbie Sparks May 21, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Oh, i get it..to cool to fawn over a local....now the review makes sense.
Anna Mation May 21, 2012 at 11:33 PM
My family shelled out $80 as fast as we could for the "I was there" t-shirts, and we were delighted to have James back in our lives just for one day. His album rocks and we love him with all our hearts. That said, and compared to the bands that appear at the Friday Night concerts that have been rocking for decades, the performance was exactly what we were expecting: young talent that has been on the road for less than a year. They'll get there. They've got all the potential in the world, and a fan base that adores them. \m/\m/ Dylan Rosenberg! \m/\m/
Kristina Bossaert May 22, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Brad, you've just made the acquaintance of a Viper Vixen in the Outcast Army in Nancy. She and many others (including myself) are of the "take no prisoners" mindset when it comes to defending James, the band and their high degree of talent. I've seen them live a few times myself and James voice was always SPOT ON. He is 23 yrs old and I gather from what you have written that you would agree that voices like his do not come along very often. I also agree with you that he WILL BE A HEADLINER, it is only a matter of time....He is the entire package, the talent, the charisma and the passion....and he truly does connect with his fans. Is there any part of you that wonders if you are perhaps bias in the slant? What I mean by that is are your thoughts geared towards "not fawning" as you felt some expectation to do so? I mean, are you a rebel Brad? Just go ahead....Fawn!! Cheers!
Brad Kava (Editor) May 22, 2012 at 02:14 AM
IF I had a bias...it was TOWARDS James. Having a local succeed is great for me as a journalist. I've been to literally thousands of concerts and wrote reviews for a living for 10 years. I'm acutely aware of the difference between great and OK. I heard James was tired Saturday, having had only four hours of sleep. Maybe that was part of it. I know there was magic on the first Durbin Day, but my feeling on this one was that he was headed more in the direction of Taylor Hicks than Kelly Clarkson. I want him to do great and think he's going to. He could be the next Freddie Mercury, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio...he just needs better material.
Elizabeth May 22, 2012 at 02:25 AM
It used to be that a review was supposed to be about evaluating professional contribution into the field. And now every review that you read is about how JayZ is great because he sells gazillions, and everything else not only falls short but apparently sucks no matter what it is! I've just been to concerts of Rammstein and Manson after visiting two of Durbin's concerts live. I really loved them all though a year ago I would not have dreamt of going to a Manson show. You know why? Cause I could never 'feel' metal music before Durbin. Really feel enough to get it, if you catch my drift. And now I do, because James with his passion, voice, human and authentic way of interpreting metal has a voice that communicates right with one's heart and in this way 'opens the eyes' that can see what they didn't before. Now that's a profound talent all by itself! As far as the sales go, let's be fair. Rock music is an extremely difficult genre to break into, much more so than pop, hip-hop or country. And rock audiences do not represent a homogenous market by any stretch, people who like U2 do not always like Bon Jovi. The upside is if you do become a guns'n'roses of rock, you will never be forgotten, not even years after you stop performing and recording. Best rock is a synergy of music, performance, instrumentals, improvisation, heart beat, message, social protest - a powerful fusion that not many can sustain. Durbin has already achieved a fresh rock sound, just wait for what's coming!
Kristina Bossaert May 22, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Elizabeth, I'm in awe of your comments....Superbly written and very true in my opinion. Brad, thanks for the clarification, part of what you wrote clearly indicates your appreciation for him as a fan and professional. There were some mixed reviews/signals in there however. Of course, we are all entitled to our opinions. Wish you all the best, Kristina
Brad Kava (Editor) May 22, 2012 at 04:57 AM
Wow. Elizabeth: I LOVE YOUR COMMENT. You hit it better than most critics. Rock is the toughest genre to break into. Kristina: in the emotion dept, I teared up at the first Durbin day. It was so moving to see this guy who had overcome so much go so far. But it helped that he was doing some moving ballads then. The metal that he loves is harder to convey emotions with sometimes. I loved his take on the Dio song and I think he has a lot more greatness in him. There are few performers with his vocal and emotional range.
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