Darren Criss’ Listen Up Tour – Los Angeles & Anaheim Gallery & Review

Darren Criss is quite the overachiever. He’s the kind of person who makes you feel bad about yourself, because it honestly seems like he never takes a break. He plays more instruments than one can remember (guitar, drums, violin, piano. . .  the list goes on and on), writes his own songs, and now he’s even decided that instead of taking the much deserved break a summer hiatus promises to a busy television star (Criss’ day job consists of a starring role as Blaine Anderson on Glee), he’s embarked on a 16 city tour of the US as a “Thank You” to his devoted fan following.

A Darren Criss show normally consists of some standards his fans have come to expect, which fall into four categories:

Darren Criss, Listen Up Tour - HOB Anaheim, 31st May, 2013

Darren Criss, Listen Up Tour – HOB Anaheim, 31st May 2013

1) Disney covers. Before he was Blaine, Criss was one of those early YouTube adopters who uploaded videos of himself performing music in his bedroom. The first of these was “Part of That World” from Walt Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Songs from The Lion King, Aladdin, and other Disney classics soon followed.

2) Starkid. At the University of Michigan, Criss and his closest friends started a theatre group who have achieved online fame thanks to shows like A Very Potter Musical (the first of three tongue in cheek musicals based on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series). Criss wrote much of the music for Starkid’s early shows, and often plays songs like “To Have A Home” or “Granger Danger.”

3) Originals. Criss released an EP not long before he was cast on Glee, and songs such as “Not Alone” or “Human” are staples of any Darren Criss show. Add to that songs like “Stutter” and “I Still Think,” and you’ve got beloved songs that most people have never heard of, but that a crowd full of fans will sing along happily to.

4) “Teenage Dream.” Yes, it gets its own category. It’s the song that introduced Blaine Anderson to the world, as well as launched Criss’ career. He plays it at every show. It’s a given.

But this time, fans were in for a treat. Because this tour isn’t just a thank you to those fans, it’s a chance for Criss to take some of those songs he’s been working on for an album for Columbia (a perk of the Glee gig is a recording contract, which only a few of the stars are likely to see result in an actual album), and take them to the people who matter: the fans who are almost guaranteed to purchase such an album. It’s a chance for Criss to test out the new pieces and get immediate feedback from the fans, and a chance for those of us lucky enough to have attended some of the shows early on the tour to hear a song performed without the audience singing over Criss.

Darren Criss, Listen Up Tour - HOB Sunset, 30th May, 2013

Darren Criss, Listen Up Tour – HOB Sunset, 30th May 2013

There are five new tracks to Criss’ repertoire. “Any Of Those Things,” the first of the new tracks, shows a definite shift in Criss’ original music. Much poppier than his previous work, it also shows a shift from pieces where Criss spends the entire track attached to an instrument. Oh, he plays piano a couple of times, but for the majority of the song he’s up and dancing. And let me tell you, the crowd certainly seemed to appreciate it. Especially on the second new track, “Picture Perfect.”

This song is pure sex. There’s really no better way to describe it. With a guitar riff that sounds like something out of a George Michael song, Criss seduces the crowd with talk of how he’d like his picture perfect girl to star in his “home movies.” I challenge anyone not to drop into a puddle at his feet, watching him sway those hips to the song as he sings. Cap it off with Criss pulling a fan out of the crowd to sit next to him as he returns to the keyboard (you can track the tag “#PicturePerfectGirl on Twitter to see the selfie Criss takes of the pair, complete with screaming crowd in the background), and I think we can all agree that Darren Criss is a man who knows how to work a crowd.

Criss slows things down a bit with “Words,” a love song about being unable to truly express his feelings for his love. It’s a soulful piece, that feels a bit too stripped down at times. Of all the new tracks it’s the one I’d argue could still use some work before it’s ready for an album. Definitely catchy, but not quite there yet. “Phermones” feels like the obvious single for today’s Top 40. It’s a catchy song about a high school boy falling for the new girl in class, and it’s definitely an ear worm. Four days later I admit I still have the chorus stuck in my head.

Criss’ final original track of the show was the longing number “Once Upon A Time,” about wishing for a time when things were simpler. It’s obviously autobiographical; for someone so fiercely protective of his private life the sudden ascension into the ranks of stardom have to have taken a toll on Criss. As much as he is obviously grateful for the opportunities fame has afforded him. Criss spends the entirety of the song at the keyboard, pouring his soul and passion into the piece. It’s riveting to watch, and as much as the pop tracks are catchy and danceable, this track is easily my favorite of the new pieces. It feels like the one track that tells us the most about the artist we’re watching, and that connection makes the song special in ways the others can never be.

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