Kelley, Cabrera 'tell it like it is' in Ybor
It's called the Tell It Like It Is Tour, so I'm telling it like it is: Not a lot of people turned out Thursday night to hear Josh Kelley and Ryan Cabrera at Ybor City's Crowbar. Sixty-two, actually.
And from the start, not all of them seemed completely sold on the dual-headliner show, in which the musicians took turns playing on each other's songs. Many of the Kelley fans, mature, nursing Heinekens and there with significant others, had seen the Augusta, Ga., native perform Ford Amphitheatre last summer. They were familiar with his bluesy guitar-playing and solid, soulful voice. They'd come strictly for the music and knew only enough about Kelley's personal life to refer to his wife, actor Katherine Heigl, as "that woman from Grey's Anatomy."
Many knew even less about the musician with whom Kelley would share the stage.
"Is that Ryan Cabrera?" asked a middle-aged guy, pointing across the bar to a black man with dreadlocks who was signing autographs before the show.
Um, no. That would be Cabrera and Kelley's bass player.
On the flip side, Cabrera's fans -- distinguishable by their glittery tank tops, knowledge of the Dallas native's dating history (*cough* Ashlee Simpson *cough*) and their ability to sing along to more than just his radio hits On the Way Down and True -- seemed to have a better general awareness of Kelley and were eager to take photos with him as he stood among the crowd watching the opening acts before Cabrera arrived.
And neither set of fans seemed knowledgeable about the opening acts, singer-songwriters Brandon Whyde, whose forthcoming album Kelley is producing, and Tim Brantley.
Though the unknown Whyde was greeted with meager applause after an introduction by Kelley, by the end of his five-song set, the Indianapolis man had effortlessly won over the crowd with his raspy, soulful voice, bluesy harmonica and confident, unhurried acoustic guitar playing.
Next up was Brantley, whom Kelley introduced as "a badass motherf-----." More commercial-sounding than Whyde, Brantley supplemented his vocal, guitar and piano skills with jokes and hugs for the audience.
Both warm-up acts did their jobs, and by the time Kelley and Cabrera hit the stage at 11:05 p.m., the crowd had vacated their bar stools for the dance floor and seemed bigger than just 62 people.
The show kicked off with Kelley's bluesy Two Cups of Coffee, with Kelley on vocals and electric guitar, backed by Cabrera on acoustic guitar, the bassist and a drummer. The men tag-team the 14-song set, switching guitars back and forth, playing backup for each other and at times vacating the stage to let the other perform solo. The vibe did a 180 with every song, and the crowd happily agreed to every twist and turn, dancing, making out or reveling in the music as the songs dictated.
Kelley, 29, who belted out his numbers with precision and got lost in his own guitar-playing when backing up Cabrera, was the more convincing musician of the two. On no song was his vocal mastry more evident than Only You, for which he'd tamed it to mimick his electric guitar. But Cabrera, 26, has the pop/rock hearththrob routine down solid, sticking to melodic instrumentation and taking advantage of his own seductive, breathy falsetto. He had a few "pitchy" moments, as a certain American Idol judge might say, although not too many.
But no one said this was a competition. In fact, the two songmen behaved like brothers on stage, leading us to imagine the hijinks that must ensure on their tour bus.
At one moment, during a short lull in the breezy, well-paced set, a woman in the crowd shouted, "Let's go! Look at your set list!"
Kelley retorted playfully, "Look at your mom's set list."
To which the audience laughed and Cabrera responded with faux parental scorn, "That was unnecessary, Joshua. Joshua B. Kelley."
After nearly 90 minutes of banter and solid musicianship, the guys ended the night with their new duet Tell It Like It Is. A man in the crowd summed it up best.
"If this was New York," he said, "it'd be packed."
-- Dalia Col??n, tbt*
[Tbt* photo by Dalia Col??n: Josh Kelley, left, and Ryan Cabrera, right, shared the stage at Crowbar in Ybor City on April 16, 2009.]