Concert Review: Rick Astley at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

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Admit it: you sang the shit out of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” every time you were Rickrolled. At the very least, it’s a bonafide earworm that refuses to stop squatting in our collective memories. Thankfully, his concert Tuesday night in Miami at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts offered so much more than an internet gimmick.

By his own admission, the evening’s opening act, Harrison Kipner doesn’t “usually play shows this big.” More accustomed to coffee shops, the humble sign propped up next to him announcing his name, was better suited for kumquat prices at a green market stand than a major national tour. By the end of his set, however, everyone in the room knew his name.

Very much a singer-songwriter in the vein of a Starbucks CD sampler featuring Jeff Buckley and John Mayer types, Kipner made the most of his man-with-his-emotions-and-an-electric-guitar setup.

With a grandfather who signed the Bee Gees in Australia in 1966, Kipner grew up surrounded by music. He paid tribute to that past with a remarkable set of songs that were myopic in their focus on the ins and outs of love, but also incredibly charming. He made the heart-on-sleeve bit work by infusing a combination of cleverness and passion into each song. The high point came with his upcoming first single, “The Year of Rebecca,” a track that’s equal parts Ben Folds and Rick Springfield and delivers a line in the closing moments worth a chuckle.

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Before he’d hardly taken the stage, Rick Astley received a standing ovation. This is the result of smashing worldwide album charts in the 80’s and then abruptly retiring at 27 to raise a family. Astley has toured on and off in Europe since then and released several albums, but 2016’s 50 is his proper comeback record and a huge success at that, topping the UK charts. His stop in Miami was part of a U.S. tour nearly 30 years in the making.

He began the night by “sneaking in” a new song, “This Old House.” What was immediately apparent is the booming power of his unbelievably deep voice. As an instrument unto itself, it resonates with a force more dramatic than a massive drum kit or funkdafied bassline. He followed that up with “Together Forever,” a smash single off of his 1993 massive hit record, Whenever You Need Me. He did so without fanfare, a move he’d use repeatedly as he sprinkled classic songs into a set that included plenty of newer material and a few surprise covers.

Although it was a seated event, the audience spent half the show dancing in the aisles, Astley’s voice a sledgehammer that punctuated every move. And again, it’s hard to understate this, but fans may think they’re ready for his remarkably rich voice by listening to his albums but trust this: you are not.

Case in point, Astley trotted out an old favorite, Nat King Cole’s timeless “When I Fall in Love.” Of the song, he said, “No one can sing like Nat King Cole,” but holy hell, did Astley do it all the justice it deserves.

In tow was his very talented band, backing vocalist Dawn Joseph the standout of the bunch. Only someone with truly potent pipes could keep up with Astley and she was more than up to the task, crushing it on several solo features including a medley that popped up in the middle of “Cry for Help.” It was a tribute to Astley’s 80s brethren that featured appearances by Whitney Houston’s “Dance with Somebody” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” by Culture Club, all set to a reggae rhythm.

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It wasn’t the first creative cover or mashup or the last. Astley also mixed it up with a spot on version of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by The Temptations. On the latter, this pasty British man proved that he had as much Motown running through his veins as a Detroit native.

For those who solely came to see his ubiquitous hit, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” they had to wait until the encore as he left it for the closing number (a fact he commented on by saying, “Do you think I’m stupid? Half of you would record it, post it on Youtube, and walk out the door.”)

However, in the intervening time, they were confronted with a consummate entertainer who was goofy, magnetic, sarcastic, and exuded the energy of a Las Vegas headliner.