Casey James played four separate mini-concerts during his two day triumphant return home as one of the Top 3 finalists on American Idol. Idol cameras followed him at each event, recorded every second, and apparently weighed in on some of the song choices. (Casey is heard at one point saying, “I had one in mind but I just got a new one.”) Despite having all this footage available, the viewers saw not one minute of the performances on the show.
Thanks to video-camera wielding fans at the various sites, the performances in all their heart and soul are out there for anyone to watch and enjoy and, perhaps, marvel at the difference they show between the American Idol version and the real Casey James. In fact, for many of the performances, we have multiple versions of the same songs, from different angles. You can’t have too much of a good thing, can you?
Here’s Casey waving at fans from the limo:
The highlight of the hometown visit, musically speaking, must have been the set Casey played at the Keys Lounge in Ft. Worth. The first video shows the reception Casey received as he went on stage.
Casey noted with good humor that there usually were not many more people in there watching than those playing on the stage, but for this performance the place was jammed. He started with She’s Too Sweet for Me and you could tell right away were weren’t in Hollywood anymore. There were rugged, sensual vocals, vibrant musical solos, and time taken to really get into a song. It was old time music, brought to life by someone you could tell didn’t want to be anywhere else at that moment. We can only imagine after months stuck in the American Idol bubble, he must have been so relieved to be able to just let go.
Casey covered John Mayer’s Gravity and, though it’s a little hard to hear over all the screaming from the understandably enthusiastic crowd, his command of the song was unmistakable. He sang with such feeling, oozing the charisma the judges had once claimed he lacked, and played like he was making love to his guitar. He even gave out a little moan at one point, overcome with the emotion of the moment. As much as I’m looking forward to him recording his first CD, I’d say that Casey will always be one of those performers (like Springsteen, Vedder, and Stipe) who are actually better live.
Drowning on Dry Land. What can I say about that performance? The guitar intro alone sent me into a bit of a tizzy. It did what any good blues guitar should do, make you feel every note in your bones. Then Casey started singing. He brought in the deep notes, the falsetto, and everything in between and just ripped the song. Unrestrained, his vocals are all over the place in service of the song. He mixes it up, he changes it around. If the TV audience had been shown just one line of the song, they would have seen a completely different side of Casey. The man loves the blues. During one part of the song, just before a brief scat, he laughs out loud in pure elation. I’ve said this elsewhere, but watching him play the blues is almost awkward, like you’re intruding in what should be a private moment.
His version of Ian Moore’s Satisfied should have come with at least an NC-17 rating. The vocals were just so damned sexy, rough, and raw. The guitar playing was, again, just right – pulling out the longing and hunger in the song. The incongruity of these sounds coming out from under that mop of blond ringlets is a bit jolting, but that’s what makes Casey such an interesting performer. He doesn’t look like a serious blues musician, but he sure sounds like one.
He played the instrumental, Pipleline, described by Wikipedia as “a 1963 song by surf rock band The Chantays, also recorded by Johnny Thunders, Hank Marvin, The Ventures and Dick Dale, the Del-Tones and Anthrax.” It gave Casey a chance to just play guitar and share his love for that instrument with his fans.
His last song was King’s Highway, and either the acoustics in there do something strange to your voice, or Casey sang a tad deeper than he did on American Idol. It lent a grittier sound to his bluesy vocals. And without the time restraints of the show, he was able to let loose on the guitar. I’ve seen a lot of guitarists in my day and I tend to separate them into two groups, the ones who play to show off their skills and the ones who play with their heart. Casey is squarely in the latter category. He loves playing music; it’s as simple as that. He doesn’t waste notes, he doesn’t have unnecessary runs or flourishes, he just expresses his feeling in the moment.
The next stop was The Stockyards.
Thanks to @anaperfoncio, I can include the entire video from YouTube here:
Another angle of the first song:
Even after finally being able to play a few songs at Keys, unfettered by the AI restrictions, Casey was still beaming about being on stage with his guitar, “I get to play a full song,” he said with a big grin, before launching into Heaven. Again, this song was a great platform for Casey to show off his sweet tenor voice as well as his rough-edge (Seger-esque?) rasp and his effortless guitar playing. The smile on his face wasn’t the uncomfortable one he sometimes had on the show, but was the smile of pure joy of getting to do what he loved.
Casey brought his momma Debra onstage to join him in Wayfaring Stranger. His guitar playing, his soulful vocals and his joy at singing with his mother made this a memorable and touching performance. I’m sure all the fans in attendance liked his idea of the great, big group hug at the end of the song.
For his last song, Casey played Blue Sky, by Ian Moore, the song he switched up in the last minute after a talk with his “boss” (one would assume, an American Idol producer or handler). I can’t fault them for the song choice, it’s truly beautiful. The fault lies in the fact that not one moment of this tender performance was ever shown.
The next day he went to the Millsap stadium, his former high school stomping grounds. Tired from his whirlwind trip, he still rocked the place. I can’t imagine the emotion of that moment, full of local-boy-makes-good outpouring of love, but you could tell how overwhelmed he was.
Casey opened with Ian Moore’s Blue Sky and created a magical moment. Just his crystal clear voice, filled with emotion, a simple acoustic accompaniment. How many people can sound so good stripped down like that?
He then played Gavin DeGraw’s Meaning. And while I love Casey’s blues playing and singing, if he wants to be played on the radio, this is the direction he should take. The song was perfect for his voice, urgent and powerful, heartfelt and tender. It’s almost not fair for someone to sing that well while playing that well and looking that good doing it. The sigh he gave when the song was over was his echoing my feeling when it was over.
Casey also played an original song, Shine Your Shoes. Listening to it now, I can see why he picked OK it’s Alright with Me for his Top 3 song. They are similar, both a little musically upbeat with a good message. I happen to like Casey’s song more as he’s able to pay homage to his blues roots while still making a more commercially viable pop song.
At the end, Casey brought out his secret weapon, his mom Debra. They sang Wayfaring Stranger together (reprising their duet from the Stockyards the day before) and you could see where he got his talent. She sang with so much feeling and had such a powerful, soulful, and evocative voice it was impossible not to be moved. Very impressive. Casey’s guitar playing was the only accompaniment and it was just so haunting and beautiful. And his voice? It would seem weird to use the word “sexy” for a duet with his mom about meeting loved ones in heaven, so I’ll just say…wow.
The night before, Casey made a quick stop at the annual Wildflower Festival in Richardson, Texas.
The city of Richardson welcomed him warmly:
Casey sang “an old Fleetwood Mac song” —I Need Your Love So Bad. Unfortunately, it’s one of the only performances for which there is not great video. What we have is the song broken into two parts:
Here’s the rest of that song:
Or this muffled/choppy version:
Casey also performed Shine Your Shoes again.
Here’s another vantage point:
He also reprised Heaven. Watch the video all the way to the end, worth it just for his reaction.
Casey was also videotaped meeting with fans backstage at the Wildflower Festival:
Dallasnews.com took some photos of Casey during Homecoming including the photo below from the Wildflower Festival. You can find the rest of their photos here.
Photos of Casey from the Wildflower Festival by Elliott Munoz of PegasusNews.com:
On Facebook, there are a number of people who took pictures during the Hometown visit. Here are some photos and links to more:
More from the same album can be found here.
More photos available here.
More photos from Mix 105.1 here.
As part of Casey’s homecoming, he visited the hospital where he was treated after his 2001 motorcycle accident and delivered a signed guitar to the surgeon who repaired his left arm and wrist. The hospital’s blog posted a terrific article about the emotional visit as well as some great photos. Check out the entire post here.