Wednesday, September 19, 2018
  • Soundcheck

Review: Charlie Puth makes song craftsmanship pop at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

Charlie Puth did his best to sound genuine. Maybe he actually was.

"It's pretty crazy that just four years ago, I was only producing music for other artists. I was only songwriting," he told 9,000 fans at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre Friday night. "Now this, four years later, is just…" He shrugged and shook his head.

Hard to believe there's a feeling Puth, 26, can't put into words. The studio rat turned record-breaking pop star radiates a certain type of big 2018 energy, prowling around the stage with the cockiness of a '80s-movie bad-guy boyfriend.

But as an artist, he's building something deeper. Puth is a funk-pop classicist, the sort of guy who picks Michael Jackson's PYT for a walk-on song, and spends half the show spritzing around on a vintage Roland SH-101 keytar. He would slay, absolutely slay, in a piano bar, even if the hooks he writes are now much too big for such confines.

The best of those hooks hail from his slick new LP Voicenotes. As on the album, Puth opened with the choppy earworm The Way I Am, but then skipped ahead to standout middle cut Slow It Down, a Doobies-go-Daft Punk slice of futuristic blue-eyed soul.

Puth's melodies and spirit may have been in the ballpark of Michael McDonald on Empty Cups or Michael Bolton on Patient, but his voice isn't a leonine beast like theirs. Instead, he possesses a pretty spot-on falsetto, all sensitive and glisteny on We Don't Talk Anymore and Change, a song he dedicated to students down in Parkland. He milked it a bit much on  Patient's lengthy coda and the stiff blues of Suffer, but it was hard to imagine a better vocal fit for the dizzying spires of Boy.

Charlie Puth performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 31, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Even pop perfectionists like to mix it up now and then, and so Puth noodled out a funky little keytar jam on LA Girls and interpolated Elvis Presley's Can't Help Falling In Love before Somebody told Me. After that song's undeniable vocal refrains, his breakdown drifted into neighborhood of Phil Collins' Easy Lover, and honestly, he might've knocked the show up a notch if he'd gone there.

The moments that best showed Puth's rapid evolution came when he'd toss off an old hit, like the solo-ish Marvin Gaye or simplistic One Call Away, and follow it with a song from Voicenotes, like the plucka-da-bass funk of Attention. The old stuff got fans singing; the new stuff got them dancing. That's progress, the type that suggests Puth might keep making interesting music for a long time to come.

Opening the show was Oscar-nominated actress and singer Hailee Steinfeld, anchor and star of what's secretly a Top 3 Coen Brothers movie (True Grit) and what will, come December, be the No. 1 movie in America (Bumblebee).

Hailee Steinfeld performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 31, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Her Hollywood life popped up at least twice, with her Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack contribution Capital Letters and her tender, finger-snappy Pitch Perfect 2 song Flashlight, which drew shrieks of recognition from the audience.

Despite the best efforts of her dance squad, the spark and spunk Steinfeld, 21, exudes from the screen didn't fully pop from the stage. But as she said, "Music had always been part of my plan, my dream." And her actual singles do have some summery, trop-pop stickiness, particularly propulsive opener Love Myself and rumbling, lady-positive Most Girls. Her new, unreleased song Used to This, about "having fallen in love for the very first time" — presumably with rumored boyfriend Niall Horan — had a fetchingly futuristic chamber-pop vibe, though you probably won't hear it pumping out of Bumblebee's speakers come Christmas.

Hailee Steinfeld performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 31, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Amphitheaters might not quite be Puth and Steinfeld's thing just yet. After some nasty late-afternoon rain, the venue announced anyone with a lawn ticket would get an automatic upgrade to covered seating, but even then, there were small swatches of empty blue seats visible beneath the shed.

But Puth is working his way to this level. You can already picture him performing for older festival crowds well into his 70s, no doubt still closing with See You Again, one of this decade's most unkillable sing-alongs.

But that'll be then and this is right now, and right now Puth is young and hungry and striking while he can. At one point he peeled off his tank top and tossed it into the crowd. It was hot and so is he, at least to the fans who grasped at the shirt down front. It's pretty crazy, all right, that he "was making YouTube videos in 2010," he said, "and this is where we're at now."

Even crazier? There's still room for Puth to grow from here. You probably don't want to bet against him.

— Jay Cridlin

Comments
Dickey Betts in critical condition, facing brain surgery after ‘freak accident’ near Sarasota; upcoming concerts canceled

Dickey Betts in critical condition, facing brain surgery after ‘freak accident’ near Sarasota; upcoming concerts canceled

Months after returning to the stage after years of retirement, legendary Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts is "critical but stable" after a "freak accident" at his home in Sarasota County, according to his website.The site says Betts was ou...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Country Music on the Bay festival bringing Scotty McCreery, Wynonna, Jerrod Niemann to St. Petersburg

Country Music on the Bay festival bringing Scotty McCreery, Wynonna, Jerrod Niemann to St. Petersburg

An all-new country music festival is coming to St. Petersburg.Country Music on the Bay will hit Vinoy Park on Oct. 13, with a lineup that includes American Idol alum Scotty McCreery, Jerrod Niemann (Drink to That All Night), Wynonna and the Big Noise...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Clearwater’s Hispanic Heritage festival expands to two days; Gente de Zona, Olga Tanon lead lineup

Clearwater’s Hispanic Heritage festival expands to two days; Gente de Zona, Olga Tanon lead lineup

A big festival in Clearwater is getting even bigger.The annual 92.5 Maxima Hispanic Heritage concert — officially known as the Maxima Concerto Herencia Hispana — will expand from one day to two in 2018. It'll take place Oct. 13 and 14 at ...
Published: 09/19/18
Sunshine Music Festival won’t return to St. Petersburg in 2019

Sunshine Music Festival won’t return to St. Petersburg in 2019

For the last six years, the Sunshine Music Festival has broken up the wintry monotony of mid-January with a star-studded show at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg.But for the time being, it's not coming back.The fest recently announced on social media tha...
Published: 09/19/18
Rainbow Kitten Surprise added to 97X Next Big Thing lineup

Rainbow Kitten Surprise added to 97X Next Big Thing lineup

Now that Rainbow Kitten Surprise has sufficiently rocked Tampa, the secret can be told: They're coming back in December for 97X Next Big Thing.The fast-rising North Carolina indie rockers have been added to the bill for this year's Next Big Thing, pe...
Published: 09/18/18
SoundBytes: Nile Rodgers, Noname, Rosanne Cash, Kyle Kinane and more

SoundBytes: Nile Rodgers, Noname, Rosanne Cash, Kyle Kinane and more

— In case you missed it, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers will open for Cher on Jan. 21 at the Amway Center in Orlando. Click here.— Jazz- and spoken-word-inspired rapper Noname is coming to the Ritz Ybor on Jan. 18. Tickets are $25.50 and up....
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/19/18
Sarah Brightman coming to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

Sarah Brightman coming to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

Sarah Brightman is used to playing arenas. Since 2000, her concerts in Tampa Bay have all taken place before thousands of fans at what is now Amalie Arena.So getting to see her in a theater should be quite a treat.Brightman, one of the biggest stars ...
Published: 09/17/18
Review: Dierks Bentley, Brothers Osborne bring a four-hour party to Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

Review: Dierks Bentley, Brothers Osborne bring a four-hour party to Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

  On Saturday, Dierks Bentley returned to Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre — a place he said "feels like a second home" — for more partying, drinking and antics including a floating stage for Drunk on a Plane and some bananas...
Published: 09/17/18
Review: Scorpions strike Tampa with eager, ageless glee at Amalie Arena

Review: Scorpions strike Tampa with eager, ageless glee at Amalie Arena

It's probably best not to look too closely at the optics of playing Rock You Like a Hurricane while there's actual hurricane battering the seaboard just a few hours away.But what were the Scorpions going to do, NOT play their biggest hit for 7,000-pl...
Published: 09/15/18
John Mellencamp coming to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater

John Mellencamp coming to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater

John Mellencamp is about to R.O.C.K. all across the U.S.A. next spring. And his tour will include two  nights in Clearwater.The heartland rock veteran will bring his next tour to Ruth Eckerd Hall on March 29 and 30 for a "night with" performance...
Published: 09/13/18