“Phillip Phillips in Niceto: Your Face is Familiar”

“Phillip Phillips in Niceto: Your Face is Familiar”

By Joaquín Vismara
Photos by Cecilia Salas

It has become commonplace to describe talent contests as meaningless factories, and their winners as puppets handled and shaped by whatever is popular in the industry at any given time. While this is true in most cases, this argument is difficult to apply to someone like Phillip Phillips. While he was the winner of the eleventh edition of American Idol at just 21 years old, Phillip has talent as a singer and guitarist, and has avoided the obvious clichés one would expect from an assembly line designed for making money. Or, judging by what we saw on his show in Niceto, he stays away from the stereotype imposed by this type of competition. And that says a lot.Continue Reading →

Celebrating Behind The Light: Song of the Week 6 – Fly

In the many interviews that appeared in the weeks leading to the release of Behind the Light, Phillip Phillips consistently used two words to describe the sound that the album would have: dark and heavy. The words were music to the ears of many, but not a surprise to anybody who had attended a Phillip Phillips show in the previous two years. Released almost exactly a year ago in April 2014, “Fly” definitely exemplified that new dark and heavy sound, but it also succeeded in capturing something more: the joy and exhilaration of Phillip Phillips’ live shows.

The song’s cover art, reminiscent of 1970’s classic rock album covers, was designed by artist Rob Carmichael, and hinted at the unique and special status that this song would have in the new album. It was abstract and mysterious, a complete departure from any other Behind the Light or Phillip Phillips image released up to that point.

Fly single art cover by Rob Carmichael

“Fly,” similar to “Thicket” and even the earlier “Man on the Moon,” is built around another one of Phillip’s great guitar riffs, one that highlights again a very strong rhythm under the melody and showcases Phillip’s incredibly dexterous playing. Co-written by Phillip and Todd Clark, a second key element of “Fly” is the contribution of pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, of the Robert Randolph and the Family Band. An electrifying and highly spiritual player, Randolph infuses the song with an organic, unpredictable feel that more than pays off by the end of the song.

The final major element of the song are the drums, played by Jason “JT” Thomas, Phillip’s current drummer and contributor to most of the drums on Behind the Light. Mr. Thomas, a drummer whose background is in gospel and jazz, lends a deep, deliciously solid groove to the song and transforms “Fly” into much more than a straight forward rock song. His pace, slow and controlled throughout the song, only reveals what is to come through his brilliant use of the snare and the bass drum, on which he increasingly riffs and builds on as “Fly” moves along.

In typical Phillip form, the lyrics are obscure, but also sparse and introspective. Still, hidden within those words is a world of meaning:

“When the day is done, the weight is on my mind
How should I give up, how should I survive
Leaning to the side of the busy street
Looking down
These people never notice me
Am I the only one who thinks it’s hard to breathe”

Very quickly we are confronted with somebody who is struggling, perhaps with his own identity, and also yearning for release. The choice of words is important, as they all seem to represent the opposite of “flying” as he speaks of “weight on my mind” and of it being “hard to breathe.” And as we continue looking through the lyrics, they all seem to circle around this feeling of being lost or trapped (Searching through a maze only to find, another wall to break, another wall to climb), and of finding it hard to express the truth, “what’s on my mind,” and more importantly, “what’s not inside.”

Phillip Phillips performing Fly with Robert Randolph at the Ryman Theatre

Controlled feelings and controlled music and drums. Barely, and not for long.This is because after a short break after the final chorus, the song dissolves into an spectacular pedal steel guitar solo by Robert Randolph, the absolute, most obvious and glorious highlight of the song. The solo, supported magnificently by the rest of the band (in particular the drums), simply takes over the last third of the song and represents the literal release to the oppressive feeling alluded to in the lyrics, the moment when Phillip–and us as listeners–literally and completely take flight.

We realize then, during that solo, that Phillip doesn’t really need to say “what’s on his mind,” that the music actually has taken over to say what the words can’t or aren’t allowed to say. And what the music says in “Fly” is as powerful as any words can be, expressing an extreme joy, and almost spiritual release–even perhaps the delirious feeling that extraordinary music-making must bring to those making the music and that it certainly brings to us as listeners. And Robert Randolph and his pedal steel guitar, an instrument referred to as “the sacred steel” in the gospel musical tradition, more than anybody personifies this concept of making music that seeks unto itself to elevate the soul.

Phillip and Robert Randolph at the Ryman Theatre

There is no doubt in my mind that this is at least part of what Phillip’s music and live shows are also about, which is sharing the music but also celebrating it for all its possibilities and power, and what it can do to all of us. And “Fly,” most of any song on Behind the Light, does this; it speaks when words can’t, it shows rather than tells. It’s joy, freedom, exhilaration–integrity–made music. If you want proof, just listen to the song, reach your hands to the sky and fly.

Take a look at some rocking videos of “Fly” below! And if you haven’t yet done so, click here to buy Behind the Light!

Concert photos by Erika H and Elvan M.

Phillip Phillips Back On The Road

Phillip Phillips is back on the road after a break over the Christmas holidays and the uncertainty created by the recent news announcing his desire to break from his label, 19 Entertainment.

Proving that making great music is, and has always been, his priority, Phillip played two incredibly energetic shows in Orillia and Windsor, Canada, despite reportedly being sick with a cold and having an injured finger. Phillip was, of course, joined by his amazing band, regulars Joel Behrman on trumpet and trombone, Jason Thomas on drums, and Bobby Sparks on organ and keys. Two new additions, Nate Mercereau on guitar and Brandon K. Brown on bass, completed the band’s line-up. They all got rave reviews from the lucky fans in the audience.

Phillip is next scheduled to join Irish band The Script for three dates in South Africa, his first ever visit there. Check out the dates and details here.

Also, check out some amazing footage from the Orillia show and beatiful fan photos from Windsor, below!

Photo Credit: Elvan McMillen. Elvan McMillen photo. Elvan McMillen photo. Elvan McMillen photo. Elvan McMillen photo. Elvan McMillen photo. Elvan McMillen photo. Elvan McMillen photo. Elvan McMillen photo. Elvan McMillen photo. Erika Houser photo. Erika Houser photo. Erika Houser photo. Erika Houser photo. Erika Houser photo. Erika Houser photo. Erika Houser photo. Erika Houser photo. Erika Houser photo. Erika Houser photo. Erika Houser photo. Elvan McMillen photo.

Video by Casino Rama Orillia.
Photo credits: Elvan McMillen and Erika Houser.
Featured photo: Elvan McMillen.

Phillip Phillips At The Ryman

Phillip Phillips made a stop at the historic Ryman Auditorium, in Nashville, Tennesee, as part of his extensive Behind The Light fall tour. Built in 1891, the Ryman is an U.S. National Historic Landmark and one of the homes of the Grand Ole Opry. A country and bluegrass music institution, the Ryman was the home of the Johnny Cash show and has seen innumerable country stars, and musicians from every possible genre, grace its stage.

Is no surprise then that anticipation for this show was high, not only among fans, but Phillip and the band. Though there were no new additions to the set list or new songs played that night, Phillip made sure to make his show at the Ryman an unforgettable one. He accomplished this when he invited pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, from the Robert Randolph & the Family Band, to join him on stage during “Fly” to recreate his killer solo from the album. To say it was epically delivered would be an understatement.

The lucky audience was also able to enjoy the addition of the brilliant Dave Eggar on cello, back with Phillip after missing the northwest leg of the tour, and Mark Lettieri on guitar, covering for Errol Cooney (currently on tour with Stevie Wonder). Of course the rest of Phillip’s band, Joel Behrman on trumpet and trombone, JJ Smith on bass, Bobby Sparks on keys and Jason Thomas on drums, all helped Phillip to play one of his most powerful and intense sets yet. Phillip honored the venue with his passion and skill and demonstrated that he completely belonged on that legendary stage.

Check out the set list, as well as some cool fan photos and videos from the night, below!

Set list:
Lead On
Get Up Get Down
Raging Fire
Man on the Moon
Unpack Your Heart
Tell Me a Story
Gone Gone Gone
Moving Out (Billy Joel cover)
Fly (with Robert Randolph)
Fool For You

Erika H. Photo Elvan M. Photo Elvan M. Photo Lili Vaught Photo

Photos by Erika H, Elvan McM and Tiffany.
Setlist by @Phillips_Tweets.

Phillip Phillips Makes Dreams Come True in Everett

Some dreams do come true. Last Tuesday in Everett, WA, it was my turn to check the “see Phillip Phillips in first row” box next to my list of concert dreams. And it could not have been on better night since I got to share my excitement with an adoring crowd and some very faithful fans, some even coming from all across Washington State.

Fans, including me, started to line up since early in the afternoon for the chance to see Phillip and his band from as close as possible. We were rewarded with a signature Phillip Phillips set that was full of live favourites, rare tracks from Behind The Light and many surprises in between. And after playing hundreds of shows–20 or so already on this tour–Phillip has really mastered the art of set dynamics.

The show started with a bang with “Get Up Get Down,” followed immediately by “Lead On,” both songs featuring such funky, delirious jams that even the professional photographers in front of us couldn’t help but to start dancing. Next was “Fly,” a massive rocker that was performed with such intensity and skill that it could have been enough to close the show and send us home. I was laughing uncontrollably at this point, I just could not believe what I was hearing and seeing. Because it’s one thing to hear this music live, but another even more incredible to see it being made right in front of your eyes. I was particularly impressed by JJ Smith on bass, maybe because it was the first time I actually could see him play. But everybody was so impressive: Errol Cooney on guitar, Bobby Sparks on keys, Jason Thomas on drums and Joel Behrman on trumpet and trombone, and of course Phillip, who plays effortlessly and leads his band into ever higher levels of playing each time.


After slowing down just a beat with “Raging Fire,” Phillip gave us the first real treat of the night when, in a total change of pace and style, he launched into a cool, super smooth rendition of the jazz influenced “FACE.” This song and its stripped down arrangement allowed Phillip’s beautiful warm voice to shine and the great lyrics of the song to come alive. Also incredible was trombone player Joel Behrman, who infused the song with a loose, New Orleans jazz flavour that was simply delicious. The move from those intense songs to “FACE” was the perfect example of how Phillip is as effective delivering the huge jams as he is in telling us a story with his lyrics.

There is also an energy to Phillip that is both youthful (and very much his age), but also very wise, which may help to explain his wide ranging fan base. At Everett I saw everything from young girls attending their first ever concert, to older fans coming back to live music after many years, to concert veterans coming back for seconds and thirds. The element of surprise may be what keeps bringing them all back. This was evident this time when Phillip, in another stand out moment, started playing an unknown cover (to me) that was chills-inducing from the first note (it turned out to be Alice in Chains’ “Rooster”). This impromptu cover just showed once again his amazing ability to mix and re-arrange songs as he pleases, and to bring a little bit of the unexpected to each one of his shows.

Though I can’t possibly pick any favourite songs from what was played that night, special mention must go to new single “Unpack Your Heart,” a sweet song in the album that simply shines live, my all-time favourite “Man on the Moon” with its epic, head banging outro, “Thicket,” with a wonderful jam lead by Sparks on keys, and the insanely good “Lollipop” mashup that served to close the set and left fans screaming and stomping their feet for more. When Phillip came back after a couple of minutes and quietly started the first notes of “My Boy,” we knew we were one of the lucky crowds. Tears came to my eyes immediately and I can safely say that mine were not the only ones. It was not only incredibly moving and deep, but perfectly delivered musically as well.

Phillip closed his show with “Home,” but not before he had some fun with the now famous ultra-sexy intro. And if Phillip has probably sung “Home” more times that he can count, he sure didn’t show it, making us sing along with him numerous times and getting so emotional in the process that it was truly moving and powerful to see. “I hope you enjoy yourselves with us, and we will enjoy ourselves with you,” Phillip had said earlier in the night, “That way we can make something beautiful.” We did enjoy ourselves Phillip, immensely. And it was, it was all so very beautiful.

Phillip’s fall tour across the US continues until December. Check out all the dates here.
And check out some cool photos and videos, including one featuring the full audio from the show, below!

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Photos and videos by Sebastian Lavigna.
Audio slide show by Lea P.
Check out the full set list here.