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REVIEW: Nathanson, DeGraw make magic in Cedar Rapids

Amphitheater shines along the Cedar River

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By Carly Weber, The Gazette  ::   UPDATED: 14 July 2014 | 6:32 pm   ::  

CEDAR RAPIDS - Matt Nathanson and Gavin DeGraw's co-headlining concert Thursday night at the McGrath Amphitheatre was a study in opposites.

The contrast wasn't between a good performance and a bad one. Both Nathanson and DeGraw - who said they'd been talking about a summer tour together for a while - put on one heck of a show.

The difference, though, between the self-described friends' performing styles would have only been more stark had one gone acoustic.

For what they were - a singer/songwriter, his instrument (a guitar in the case of Nathanson; piano for DeGraw) and his band - these two artists' each had their own way of possessing the amphitheater stage and appealing to the audience.

Nathanson started the night with a question: "How are you doing everybody? Good?"

The rest of his 13-song set was equal parts banter and music, both bent on ensuring the answer would be "Yes."

The San Francisco-based artist made himself at home along the Cedar River, establishing a goofy - often funny - rapport with the audience from the beginning.

After opening with "Kill the Lights" from his most recent album "Last of the Great Pretenders," Nathanson brought up the many scents of Cedar Rapids. Quakers Oats, beer, trash, it was a "potpourri of magic," he said.

"It's a pleasure to breathe you in."

Throughout the set, he orchestrated "clapping situations" and singalongs.

"I need you to sing with me people of Cedar Rapids," he said. "I knew when we pulled up to the river, it was going to be a magical night."

It was magical indeed, particularly for the 8-year-old fan who wrote Nathanson a letter, which he received onstage graciously ("See what you did to me," he asked. "How am I supposed to sing this song with your awesomeness?") and reciprocated with the T-shirt he'd been wearing up to that moment.

He got personal with the rest of the audience as well, leaving the stage twice to sing from the grass, among his fans.

Sometimes artists can spend so much time talking that a concert feels more like a monologue. Nathanson hit on the perfect balance, offering fans a glimpse of his personality through both his music and his machinations.

DeGraw, on the other hand, let his music do all the talking.

The second half of the concert started with smoke and lights and the artist singing "Leading Man" from his most recent album, "Make a Move."

It was two more songs - "Chariot" and "Sweeter" - before he addressed the audience.

"Good evening. I'm Gavin DeGraw. This is my band up here with me tonight."

With that he was back at the piano for "Follow Through."

And follow through he did. The next 10 songs included all the fan favorites - "Everything will Change," "Rich Girl," "I'll be your Soldier," "In Love with a Girl," "Finest Hour" and "I Don't Want to Be" - from his hit-filled decadelong career.

He chose the right note and song to end the evening on, with "Not Over You" from 2011's "Sweeter."

While we'll have to get over that Nathanson and DeGraw were in Cedar Rapids for just one night, Eastern Iowa should be glad the new amphitheater is here to stay.

The venue offers the perfect vantage point of both the concert and downtown Cedar Rapids. While by no means the first musicians to take the riverside stage, Nathanson and DeGraw tested the amphitheater's ability to host a full-scale production with multiple screens, lights and countless speakers.

The result - as Nathanson sensed it would be - was magic.

l Comments: (319) 398-5821; carly.weber@sourcemedia.net

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