Oleta Adams

Steppenwolf Theatre
Chicago, IL
Mar. 10, 2007
Oleta Adams Oleta Adams

Story and Photos By Andy Argyrakis

The days of a famous artist or suit bearing record executive discovering an unknown talent are long gone in the wake of online outlets like MySpace and YouTube, plus reality shows such as "American Idol." Nowadays anyone can catch the wave of the "next big thing," though usually that star's time in the limelight burns for a mere fifteen minutes. However, throughout the 1980s those methods weren't in existence and performers could actually map out a career laced with longevity, a path taken by alternative pop innovators Tears For Fears. Though the group was already known for the massive selling singles "Shout" and "Everybody Wants To Rule the World," co-leaders Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal were determined to break formula for a follow-up and took a chance on a singer they saw performing in a Kansas City hotel lounge. Her name was Oleta Adams, and she was swiftly added to the band's line-up, becoming vital in shaping the sound of 1989's groundbreaking The Seeds of Love (Fontana), including the spine chilling ballad "Woman In Chains" (which also featured Phil Collins on drums).

Following the success of that album and tour, plus critics approval of Adams' contributions, she struck out solo for 1990's Circle of One (Fontana) and has been recording a flurry of jazz, soul, gospel and specialty projects ever since. Unlike her late 90s run through town as a member of Collins' big band tour or a more recent visit to Ravina as part of a Woody Allen tribute concert, Adams presented her entire solo career in a two act evening throughout the Steppenwolf Theatre's intimate and acoustically satisfying venues (which is currently in the midst of its Traffic Jam series listed at www.steppenwolf.org). From the early inclusions of the lush piano led "I Knew You When" to a jazzed-up version of Billy Joel's "New York State Of Mind," Adams showcased a sterling set of pipes that haven't showed a single sign of wear, but continue to ring with richness. The same could be said about the soulful "Rhythm of Life" and glowing "You've Got To Give Me Room," accompanied by swelling arrangements.

The second half of the show shifted from Adams and her grand piano playing to a more casual keyboard position and extra amplification from her drummer/husband John Cushon and bassist Michael Mason. The trio poured through the songstress' gospel roots with the inspiring original "If You're Willing," along with an impromptu sing-a-long of the old time spiritual standard "Glory, Glory Hallelujah." However, she soon shifted back to secular stardom for renditions of her two most famous singles- the emotive Brenda Russell cover "Get Here" (which earned a mighty standing ovation) and the celebratory "Circle of One."

Though the nearly two hour evening hit several satisfying spots, her time with Tears was glaringly absent, especially "Woman in Chains" and "Me And My Big Ideas." Several attendees wore the band's previous tour shirts, indicating at least a partial interest in that portion of her career, and she should've obliged with at least a tune or two. Of course, without Orzabal and Smith for duet partners, it couldn't have been a complete package, but a quick sampling would've still been better than nothing to add some extra sugar to an otherwise sweet set.

Watch a video of Oleta performing "More Than You Know"

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