Published July 1993, The Aquarian Weekly
HOLMDEL, NJ -- Sweltering, sauna, dripping, oppressive ... as Karl Wallinger and World Party hit the stage at 8 p.m., the thermometer was still hovering somewhere near 100, while the humidity pushed things to at least the 120-degree mark - no where near enough heat to stop thousands of devotees of Chelsea Clinton's favorite band (Maniacs) from thoroughly packing the Arts Center.
Wallinger and company started their hour-long set off with a few Beatle-esque pop ditties chock full of winsome harmonies, endearing vocals, chiming guitars, tinkling piano and hints of '60s-era psychedelia bursting through often brilliant pop melodies.
"Ship Of Fools" and "Is It Like Today?" were soon followed by an extended workout of "Sunshine" from the new album, "Bang!"
With its cool, languid beat and wandering melody line, the song evolved into a perfect groove, sort of a "90s version of War's "All Day Music" accompanied by the waving of thousands of GSAC programs being utilized as fans in the heat.
After a few choice tunes from the new album were met by numb looks and polite response (hey, I told you, it wuz h-o-t!), Wallinger kicked the band into a stinging take on his near hit from a few years ago "Way Down Now." He prowled the lip of the stage during the guitar solo, leering at the front rows, affecting a completely bored, hand-on-chin pose with one hand as the fingers on the other blazed across the frets of his guitar.
Overall, a fairly tremendous set that would normally have gone over great if it weren't for two things; It was too hot, and, 99.9-percent of the crowd was here for Natalie and Natalie only.
Kicking off with "The Lion's Share," a swirling, skipping, prancing, nymph-like Merchant (who somehow, despite the intense heat, ended the evening looking fresher than when she started) was visibly moved by her instantly enraptured audience.
Merchant, known for downplaying the fact that she is an attractive female musician in favor of getting her message across, now seems to accept, and even relish her femininity. Bouquets of roses were graciously accepted by the newly coiffed, and, (if you'll pardon my piggishness) complete babe the favorite of the Clinton family stereo has given herself the freedom to be.
Midway through the second song, a steller version of "What's The Matter Here," Merchant removed a shapeless white over-dress thing (that did billow out nicely as she swirled) to reveal a tight, very stylish, very chic, black outfit - the old Natalie introducing the new Natalie to her fans?
It's always been a little weird to see people dancing to songs about unwanted pregnancy (Eat For Two), child abuse (What's The Matter Here), and apartheid (Lion's Share), but who says messages have to hurt going down?
Merchant's honey-rich, clear, and, at times playful voice sugar coated as it wrapped itself around the serious lyrics, yet somehow the voice and airy arrangements never diluted the impact of her words. Meanwhile, the often-overlooked band (on tour accompanied by a three-piece horn section and a female vocalist/keyboardist) laid down an unobtrusive, yet always perfect beat that gave the crowd something to groove to as Merchant reached out and touched them, all 10,000 or so of 'em.