Phillip Phillips in Boston: A Night of Surprises, Humour and Virtuosity

Phillip Phillips opened his 2020 Winter Tour Thursday night at a sold out show at the City Winery Boston. It was the first of two sold out shows in the city, and of a month-long acoustic tour that will take Phillips mostly along the Midwest and the East Coast. Closing the tour are two back to back shows at the City Winery Atlanta.

We missed seeing Phillip in 2019 as this is his first official tour in almost a year. All the more reason for PhillPhillcom to attend this opening show, even if it required us to travel from Canada and across the country. Truth is, nothing would have stopped us from supporting Phillips on this new tour, and all efforts were absolutely worth it.

A night of surprises 

High on every fan’s mind when the shows were announced, was who would accompany Phillips during the acoustic tour. In the past, cellist Dave Eggar,  and guitarists Evan Penza and Nate Mercereau, have joined Phillip during his acoustic runs. However, this time Phillips enlisted none other than Errol Cooney, Phillips’ first guitarist from his early post-American Idol days in 2012 until 2014. If you have ever seen Cooney live, you know he’s a virtuoso able to elevate any ensemble he plays in. This is no surprise: his main job is as the touring guitarist for Steve Wonder.

On opening night, you didn’t need to know any of this to notice not only Cooney’s brilliance, but Phillips’ wonderful musical rapport with his long time friend and collaborator. It was a joy to behold.

Talking to Phillips before the show, he mentioned that they had not rehearsed the songs they were about to play together yet. I teased that they hadn’t done their homework, only knowing very well that these two pros would be absolute fine on stage, and of course they were! In fact, not only were they fine, they were also fun, exhilarating, virtuosic at times, and touching throughout.

The show was titled “An Evening with Phillip Phillips,” and Phillips made sure it as exactly that. Because despite playing a sizeable set list—12,13 songs plus encore—there was also plenty of talking, sharing and storytelling. Casually walking to stage just after 8:00, Phillips and Cooney took their places in front of an enraptured audience. The venue, a warm and beautiful room at the City Winery Boston, was the perfect place for this reunion of sorts, as every chord, lyric, story, and banter between the two was enhanced by the intimacy of the setting.

Perhaps it was this intimacy that helped Phillips exude a confidence and ease that was just a little bit more bold and carefree that we’re used to. Or it could be the fact that Phillips just became a father (he and his wife Hannah welcomed their first baby last November), a life event that can effectively cement your beliefs and understanding of your place in the world. Or it could be the fact he was back sharing the stage with his long time guitarist and friend.

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But the truth is we’ve seen Phillips several times, and in many different settings, and on Thursday we saw a slightly different Phillips. While he has always been one hundred percent himself when playing, it was his exchanges with the crowd that most impressed us, in particular his stories, told with a mixture of bravado and sharp—often self-deprecating—humour. In fact, his presence seemed to match even more closely a certain contradictory quality inherent in his songwriting: the mixture of his deeply humble, quiet nature and his steely courage, integrity, and work ethic.

And though Phillips shared with us that he hadn’t done much playing and singing for the last couple of months—he’s switched from practice to a lot of diaper changing—musically, it was fireworks. Not only was Phillips’ voice in beautiful form, his performance with Cooney was like seeing a playful duel between two masters at the top of their game. At one point, the audience, attuned to every note they played, erupted in applause and singing when Phillips and Cooney started to play an impromptu Fleetwood Mac cover. You could feel the electricity move through the room.

Phillips, it’s evident, thrives with Cooney,  effortlesly holding down his often intricate guitar parts and using his voice as the channel for sublime storytelling, never failing to take us to that place of true, authentic emotion and feeling.  Meanwhile, Cooney was mesmerizing at every turn: from what can only be called musical “special effects” to his always exhilarating solos, he is the kind of player who expands what you think an acoustic guitar can do.

Essentially, Phillips and Cooney had us in the palm on their hands from the first note they played. And this being the very first show of the tour, we are certain it’s only going get even better from here.

To see all upcoming dates and get your tickets, visit Phillip Phillips’ official site.

We would like to thanks Phillip Phillips and his management team for their amazing support while covering this show. All photos and videos by PhillPhillcom.