Concert Review: Duncan Sheik at The Theater

Duncan Sheik w/ Holly Brook

September 22, 2007

The Theatre, West Palm Beach

Better than: MTV Unplugged

The Review: Politically charged lyrics that are shrouded in double entendres, Buddhist sensibilities and laid-bare songwriting are the hallmarks of a Duncan Sheik semi-acoustic show.

Known for his chart-topping "Barely Breathing," which garnered the musician a Grammy nomination in 1997, the singer-songwriter is known for novel gazing at life's state of affairs, especially in the matters of relationships or lack thereof.

His show at the Theatre followed the same course. Sheik delivered a tight set of a dozen songs, coming back for a double encore. The audience was peppered with devout fans, who didn't hesitate to scream out song titles in hopes of getting their request fulfilled. They were even there for him when he forgot a couple of lyrics to "On a High," an encore request he resisted at first.

The mighty balladeer made a statement in "Star Field on Red Lines" and before heading into the song apologized for his upcoming rant: "Brace yourself, here it comes," he said, referencing the political overtones of the song. The title, said Sheik, is in reference to the American flag. Yet, even when he says he's being "overtly political" it takes meditation to figure out the merry-go-round lyrics: "Playground. Homeland. A countryside to save. Blue skies. Air-space. Soldiers to raise." Suffice to say, if he didn't point it out, you might not get the politics at all.

"The rest of the night will be non-Partisan, I promise," he said.

All politics aside, Sheik has had a revival in his career on a different musical path lately. With collaborator Steven Sater, a fellow Buddhist, the pair has a hit Broadway musical on their hands with "Spring Awakening." Its contemporary rock score produces comparisons to Broadway hit "Rent" and its erotic nature and subject matter of teenage sex, masturbation and sadomasochism, has had critics heralding it for injecting the Great White Way with tasteful sexuality. Sheik performed the song "Touch Me" from the musical, a tale of first love and sexual angst. He then introduced the audience to his next Broadway collaboration with Sater, a musical about the emperor Nero, launching into the tortured song "Lover from Hell."

As far as the requisite performing of the chart-topper "Barely Breathing," it was unceremoniously presented early in his set with only a 12-string acoustic as accompaniment. Like Sheik's career, the show was an enjoyable mixed musical bag. An encore of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" sealed the deal. – Michelle F. Solomon

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Broadway has turned Sheik from sexy to frumpy. Case in point: Goatee and rumpled khaki vest.

Random Detail: Holly Brook was a pleasant surprise as an opening act, especially when she sang and rapped on the challenging Fort Minor "Where'd You Go." She provided her breathy voice and appears in Fort Minor's video of the 2006 song. See Holly in the video here.

By the way: Sheik started out as a guitarist in Lisa Loeb's band, but didn't sing because he didn't think his voice was good enough.

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Tovin Lapan