BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Exactly a year to the date that he performed at Chastain Park Amphitheatre, Richard Marx packed up his trove of hits and returned to Atlanta – albeit a bit further south.
His Saturday night gig at Frederick Brown Jr. Amphitheater (aka “The Fred”) in Peachtree City tweaked his usual show presentation a bit, as Marx was backed by 20-plus members of the Atlanta Pops Orchestra (conducted by Dr. Jason Altieri).
It’s a format that suited his lush pop songs and allowed the gregarious Marx time to engage with the audience, whether it was to encourage them to take photos (“I got into showbiz so people would pay attention to me,” he said, before striking a “Zoolander”-ish pose) or to share a tender story about his late father.
As a performer, Marx has always eliminated the barrier between artist and performer to create an intimate environment, and that hasn’t changed. Openers “Endless Summer Nights” and “Take This Heart” were performed as if in someone’s living room, with Marx imbuing the lyrics with his typical eyes-closed passion and strumming his acoustic guitar with gusto.
Cutting a slight figure in his dark suit, rock star hair and wicked sense of humor intact, Marx, 53, led the Pops through the eerie cinematic turns of “Hazard” and slipped behind the piano for “Through My Veins,” the sweet 2008 ballad penned for his jingle-writing father Dick Marx (“a total badass,” Marx said, still in admiration nearly 20 years after his death).
Although Marx’s chart history is noteworthy – 13 Top 40 hits since 1987, nine of them Top 10 smashes – longtime fans also know he’s been an in-demand songwriter and producer for years.
Marx’s musical comrade Steve Hornbeak, who played piano and offered angelic harmonies earlier in the concert for “When You Loved Me,” returned to assist in a stroll through Marx’s catalog of hits written for other artists.
From Kenny Rogers (“Crazy,” which Marx wrote at the age of 20) to “Dance with My Father” (a Grammy-winning hit for Luther Vandross in 2003) to “Long Hot Summer” and “Better Life” (his No. 1 hits with Keith Urban) to “This I Promise You” (written for ‘N Sync in their girl-magnet heyday), Marx showcased this parade of radio favorites with self-deprecation and taut vocals tinted with his trademark rasp.
Sitting center stage on a stool, he also treated the crowd to his rarely played valentine, “The Best of Me,” written when he was 19 (!!) with mega-composers David Foster and Jeremy Lubbock (Foster scaled the adult contemporary charts with his Olivia Newton-John duet version in 1986).
Marx, who married Daisy Fuentes in late 2015, shared that during rehearsal of the song earlier that day, he realized that even though he wrote the gushy ballad when he was barely out of his teens, “I wrote it for a woman I would meet 30 years later.”
He continued this romantic streak with “Angelia,” the strings from the Atlanta Pops swelling behind his guitar work, and the 1988 prom weeper “Hold on to the Nights,” elegantly paired with “Now and Forever.”
Marx seems content at this point in his career. He kicks off a 2 ½-week residency at the Flamingo in Las Vegas later this month, hopscotches around the country when he wants to play a few shows and continues to co-headline sporadic dates with pal Rick Springfield.
Most importantly, his songs have aged well, ensuring many more years of singing along to the sardonic bite of “Don’t Mean Nothing.”