Richard Marx could have a career in comedy if he ever gets tired of music.
Everyone at the Hard Rock in Northfield anticipated—and got—a masterful performance from the Grammy-winning songwriter last Saturday night (Sept. 23). But who’d have guessed the handsome hit-maker has such a wicked wit?
For example, he lambasted the prohibition on photography and invited fans to bust out their cameras and cell phones to capture the moment.
“Those rules are bullsh*t,” he deadpanned. And then: “Hey, I got all dressed up and put stuff in my hair because I want your attention!”
Marx peppered the intimate concert with other funny anecdotes, silly stories, and self-deprecating digs between numbers, keeping everyone in stitches when they weren’t swaying or swooning to his guitar strums and pretty piano arpeggios.
But let’s hope the guy doesn’t quit his day job anytime soon: Armed with only a couple acoustic guitars, a black Yamaha grand piano, and his soulful voice, Marx thrilled for a hundred-some minutes, effortlessly busting out one Billboard hit after another in the “unplugged” style of a lone coffee house troubadour or solo campfire singer.
“I go to concerts too, so I know you want the hits,” said Marx, a Foo Fighters aficionado who—like most rock fans—loses interest when bands insist on testing new songs before covering familiar ground.
Accordingly, the Chicago-bred bard eschewed more recent efforts like 2008’s Sundown / Emotional Remains and 2014’s Beautiful Goodbye to clear the slate for all his ‘80s and early ‘90s chart-toppers. In other words, Marx adhered primarily to the solid-gold fare from Richard Marx (1987), Repeat Offender (1989), and Rush Street (1990).
The introductory hype video—which trumpeted Marx’s many musical accomplishments—might’ve seemed a little arrogant or hubristic at first. But after peeling into 1987 gem “Endless Summer Nights” and 1991 nugget “Take This Heart” on a Gibson J-45 acoustic it was clear that the preternaturally-talented Marx was going to live up to his own press and send everyone home “Satisfied,” to say the least.
“Keep Coming Back” and “The Way She Loves Me” saw the one-man symphony chug away on shimmery open chords and breezy barres with practiced ease. His distinctive, dynamic voice stretched from come-hither lows to stratospheric highs without cracking.
Marx prefaced “Hazard” as his attempt to write a song in the style of legendary musical storytellers, an epic about a love-struck hero on-the-run in a small town.
“It’s about a girl who gets murdered,” he confirmed. “The further I got in writing it, the dumber I thought it was.”
But then the brooding Rush Street ballad shot to #1 in over a dozen countries.
“Shows how much I know,” shrugged Marx.
The singer polled the crowd to see how many couples were out on date night. Musing that said folks were more likely to “get laid” if he buttered them up with his love songs, Marx eased into the elegant “Hold On to the Nights” and saccharine sweet “Now and Forever” while seated on a barstool.
“Hey, I’m here to help!” he quipped, as if gauging the room’s sudden influx of estrogen.
Marx also performed snippets (and whole pieces) of songs he composed for others.
Sliding behind his piano, he spoke of being mentored by Lionel Richie in Los Angeles (and singing backup on “All Night Long”) and penning “Crazy” for country superstar Kenny Rogers. Then he dipped into the tear-jerking “Dance With My Father,” in homage to late soul singer Luther Vandross.
Marx said he was reluctant to revisit the song after Vandross passed away—but then he decided he was being a “dipsh*t,” and that he would play it regularly to honor his friend’s memory.
Marx performed the former on piano, but reverted to guitar for the latter.
Continuing with the country theme, Marx eased into a delicate-sounding acoustic guitar piece that wound up being a cheeky kiss-off in disguise: “How Can I Miss You (When You Won’t Go Away)?”
The main set concluded with effervescent “Angelia” and strident “Should’ve Known Better,” but Marx returned to regale anew with encores “Don’t Mean Nothin’” and “Right Here Waiting.”
We can’t recommend Marx’s acoustic show enough. His power pop may not be your bag, but the former “fluffy mullet” man is a real-deal raconteur: A flawless, engaging musician whose slick, high-production chart hits only gained strength when reduced to their one-voice, one-guitar starting points.