Is Alex Clare a singer or a song?
In October this bearded Brit reached No. 7 on the Hot 100 with “Too Close,” a dubstep-inflected power ballad originally released on
But take a look at Clare’s peak-week company on the chart –
That disconnect is partly why Clare was at the Fonda Theatre on Thursday night, kicking off a brief North American tour with a sold-out concert that had been advertised on flyers describing him as "the breakout artist behind the hit song 'Too Close.'" (Clare will return to L.A. on Dec. 9 for KROQ-FM's Almost Acoustic Christmas concert at the Gibson Amphitheatre.)
Pop stars are inseparable from their brands today, so this show was an opportunity for Clare to deepen our understanding of who he is and what he stands for – indeed, to initiate that understanding in the first place. And when he sauntered onstage in a rumpled button-down shirt and a jaunty flat cap, there was an encouraging little ripple of anticipation.
Fronting a three-piece band that included a rather athletic-minded keyboard player, Clare opened with "Relax My Beloved," one of the tunes that aren't "Too Close" on his debut album, "The Lateness of the Hour."
The keyboardist was pulling fat, harshly textured bass tones from his instrument while Clare went in what seemed to be the opposite direction, growling like
By this point in his 75-minute set Clare’s shirt was fairly soaked through with sweat, proof that he was putting a lot of effort into the beginnings of a potentially rich goal: unshackling the moody interior of LaMontagne or
His approach seemed to share some brainwaves with that of
But then Clare stalled out. The songs grew dull and blurred together, including covers of “Damn Your Eyes” and
It was as though he had lost the nerve (or the know-how) to reveal himself just as he came close to doing it. During "Treading Water" he even acted as his own censor, substituting "mess things up" for the more strongly worded phrase he uses on his album.
Of course, the energy picked up again with "Too Close," the first few notes of which transformed the audience into a sea of glowing smart phones. But if that meant Clare had momentarily grown bigger than his song, it wasn't by much. By early Friday morning the performance had become just another scrap of digital video.