Just like starting over: Bo Bice’s lot doesn’t reflect his ability

by Ryan Snyder

Assailants of “American Idol” haven’t been without ammunition since the days of From Justin to Kelly. True, it’s a vapid, synthetic shrine to dumbheaded commercialism and it reinforces a skewed perception of musical artistry as a one-dimensional pursuit.

In their pursuit of careers in music, it teaches hopefuls and viewers alike that the quick payoff is more worthwhile than the dogged pursuit. Even if the show is vastly improved with its richest crop of honest-to- God talent in its 10 th season, the principles that drive it remain the same.

The immediate payoff, however, isn’t always all what is promised, and after being wrung through the industry ringer, Bo Bice is living proof. The Southern rock prototype was summarily canned by RCA after putting out one album via the complimentary record deal that “Idol” runners-up receive. He’d never come close to the accolades of eventual winner Carrie Underwood and certainly never achieved the popularity of the next season’s runner-up Chris Daughtry, even if the bearded heartthrob was more charismatic, more soulful and maybe even a better singer.

Bice’s under-attended Greensboro show made a strong case that all of the above are within reason. Maybe it was the cold, dreary weather outside. Maybe it was the lure of the opening round of the ACC Tournament. Or maybe it was the stigma that comes with being a several seasons removed runner-up on “Idol,” but the Blind Tiger has seen better attendance on a Thursday night than that of Bice’s Feb. 10 show.

There were less than a dozen people on hand to see Brooklyn’s Alana & the Rough Gems open up in an unconventional, though intriguing pairing. Decked out in a floor-length, handmade dress with a floral print, frontwoaan Alana Amram was the antithesis of Bice’s dashing rebel image, but her expressive voice  and lonesome pedal steel backing recalled Revival-era Gillian Welch.

Their plainspoken, neotraditional sound was barely acknowledged by the small crowd, but Bice came out swinging in their wake. After attempting to procure an entire bottle of whiskey from the bar, he offered up his infamous cover of Ides of March’s “Vehicle” only two songs in, perfectly blending the resonance of Larry

Millas with the grittiness of Jum- my Kunes. Bice bleeds charisma onstage, swing- ing his newly-cropped locks around, mugging for the ladies, smiling almost every moment he was singing and leaning back in the standard-issue rock pose the few times he took on lead guitar. Everything he does seems perfectly tailored for his mostly female crowd, but he’s hard to dislike in a musical sense when he’s rocking out on originals like “I’m Gone” or showing his reverence to the Southern rock gods during his cover of “States- boro Blues.” There’s one unfailing certainty common to all the “Idol” cats who make it as far as he did: They don’t get where they are without being able to carry a note, and Bice can push a Gregg Allman chorus as hard as the man himself did in his younger days.

As a guitarist, he’s merely adequate, but leaves most of the heavy lifting for his fourpiece backing, who were at times sensational.

The screeching guitars on “Who Knows What” from his most recent album 3 showed that he’s accepting the grittier side, but problem is, too many of his songs are tainted with the specter of the adult-contempo crossover sound with which RCA tried to pigeon-hole him. “The Real Thing” and “You Make Me Better” are genuine in their conception, but don’t play to his strengths as a singer and ultimately come off as derivative. More songs with the grandiosity and urgency of “Whiskey, Women & Time” are Bice’s bread and butter, but unless he strengthens his catalog, he’ll be just another post-”Idol” second fiddle playing empty barrooms.