Richard Marx; Mad-paced camp brands Johnny Brandmeier a hit

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
February 5, 1990

When Jonathon Brandmeier walked onstage Saturday night at the Rosemont Horizon, both he and the audience knew what he was – a star.

Sting, David Bowie and not even Simon Le Bon have to worry about getting any vocal competition from Brandmeier. He is an entertainer, not a singer, but he knows it. Brandmeier writes catchy, funny, offbeat songs that flatter his limited vocal ability.

In his second consecutive night at the Horizon, Brandmeier, billed with his band as Johnny and the Leisure Suits, was set for a good time. The pace was quick and the show polished, but not so over-rehearsed that fans wouldn’t see anything new.

Into the third song, “Talking Headlines,” Brandmeier pulled a woman onstage to dance with, a la Bruce Springsteen. This is nothing new. Brandmeier is famous for keeping his audience involved in his shows. But after a few cursory dance steps, Brandmeier hoisted the middle-aged fan onto his shoulders and twirled her around.

Hulk Hogan would have been proud.

As with his show last summer at Poplar Creek, the best musical moment in Brandmeier’s concert was the four-song blues medley. With the aid of harmonica-playing sidekick Buzz Kilman, Brandmeier camped his way through “Born in Chicago” and “How How How (the White Boy Blues).”

That evening, a woman accidentally spilled a cup of beer on my head and shoulder. While I got soaked, the mishap couldn’t dampen my spirits.

The beer concessioners didn’t make as much of a killing Friday night when Highland Park native Richard Marx performed at the UIC Pavilion. The audience was a mix of starry-eyed teens sipping soft drinks and “older” couples who were too busy smooching to imbibe alcohol.

Many of Marx’s hit singles do project that make-out mood, but in concert, his rockers are the songs that shine.

Starting the show with his current single, “Too Late to Say Goodbye,” Marx seemed a little uncomfortable. But halfway through the song, he got the feel for the cavernous venue. He loosened up and exhibited a bit of fancy footwork he may have picked up from his wife, dancer-actress-singer Cynthia Rhodes.

Although he’s been in the music business for eight years, the 26-year-old musician is a relative novice to performing live. But Marx has been a fan of other musicians long enough to know what does and doesn’t look good on stage. The futuristic stage setup was impressive, but not so overbearing that it overshadowed Marx or his six-piece band.

After a lively version of “Should’ve Known Better,” a cut from his debut album three years ago, Marx watched as the audience gave him a rousing standing ovation that lasted a couple of minutes.  Clearly pleased, Marx joked, “It’s not like I was looking forward to this or anything.”

If Marx’s career keeps building the way it has been, his next stop in Chicago probably will be the Horizon. While this would be great for his career, it’s too bad for his fans. Marx’s ballads tend to sound tinny and muffled in venues such as the Pavilion and the Horizon that are better suited for basketball games than concerts. We’d be lucky to get him to play at the Auditorium instead.

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