By BRUCE DENNILL
One Republic / The Dome, Northgate / 19 June
Neutrals and less than hardcore fans who were astonished by the quality of One Republic’s Johannesburg performance should know that this show came seven gigs from the end of a world tour that’s been underway since April 2, 2013. That they chose to record a concert DVD of the first of two concerts in South Africa is wonderful for an audience who will now be able to relive what was a very special experience, but it was also a sensible choice, with the Dome being one of the bigger venues the band has played on their international trek and there still being a handful of shows remaining in the journey should something have gone pear-shaped.
That eventuality was always unlikely, however. This is a concert package that has been cleverly designed and constructed to make the most of its relatively compact design (compact, that is, when considered alongside U2’s PopMart set-up, for instance – it’s a larger rig than usually utilised in the Dome). Everything is just so, and there are sufficient ideas to ensure that, as is often the case with event the biggest artists, songs start to blend together into a murky whole rather than distinctive parts.
There are surprisingly aggressive pyrotechnics (it makes sense at a Rammstein show, but One Republic are mainstream pop-rock guys), an opening song performed, backlit, behind a huge white curtain, a backdrop featuring angular, high-definition screens with different content to the more traditional displays on each side of the stage and a walkway out to a second stage where the bamd perform a fairly lengthy acoustic set. Lighting director AJ Pen also proves himself an invaluable honorary band member, as without his precise but imaginative work, this show would merely be very good rather than overwhelmingly so.
Everyone other than rock-solid drummer Eddie Fisher and touring keyboard player Brian Willett can play a bewildering range of instruments, meaning that the live One Republic sound is not only full and muscular but also surprisingly diverse. Brett Kutzle and Zach Filkins (nominally bassist and lead guitarist respectively) play cello and viola respectively as well and that strong, stylish string sound adds a glorious aspect to the performance, being far preferable to synthesised patches of the same thing. At one point Filkins – a musclebound giant who does’t appear physically capable of such sensitivity – plays a solo on a classical guitar while changes are made behind a second white dropsheet, adding loops and percussion using the body of the guitar to utterly dispel any notion that musicians famous for playing commercial pop are not as technically talented as their peers in genres supposedly more open to such virtuosic performances.
But it is frontman Ryan Tedder who is the focus of the the whole piece, somehow maintaining a warmth and earthiness in a context where he could go full idiot rock star and be forgiven for it. Tedder is arguably the world’s most influential pop songwriter and producer at the moment, with promising up-and-comers such as Adele and Beyonce just a couple of the names at the top of his recent CV.
Considering his producer’s mindset and wondering whether he can ever turn it off makes watching him perform live a fascinating exercise. Here is a man who knows how to combine sonic ideas and facets of performance to top multiple charts, either in his capacity as a singer or as a backroom string-puller. Noting each new twist and turn as the concert heads towards the two-hour mark, it’s possible to see his imagination at work, and it’s thrilling stuff.
One moment during the Johannesburg performance underlined his possible proclivities for squeezing the most out of situation. The band had just completed a cover version of Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World, with Tedder inviting the crowd to take on the famous “Oh, yeah” suffix, which they did. He then asked the throng’s indulgence, commenting that he as fascinated by the way that some audience member went up and others down on the final syllable, then prompting a repeat of the phrase. In so doing, he also provided the engineers who will be handling the final mix of the DVD with a couple of different options to achieve the best result. He achieved this with charm, and absolutely nobody felt manipulated, but Tedder got his way, and the final product will be the better for it.