It was a different crowd than usual at Landmark on Main Street on Friday, Jan. 27. Giggling teen girls (and their moms) in tank tops and sequins comprised a good percentage of the audience. But the giggling swiftly turned to shrieking as Mark Ballas took the stage. Ballas is best known as one of the professional dance partners on the hit TV show, Dancing With the Stars, where he’s scored the coveted mirror ball trophy twice. The son of two professional dancers – Corky and Shirley Ballas – it made sense that the younger Ballas would become a dancer. However, his talents extend beyond dance – Ballas is a trained musician and singer whose debut CD, "HurtLoveBox," was released last year.
Some musicians have managed to make the crossover from music to acting –Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Dolly Parton, for example. Fewer actors have been able to jump from acting to music. The actor Jared Leto, who formed the band 30 Seconds to Mars, is probably the most successful. Others, like Keanu Reeves and Russell Crowe, have been less so. Paula Abdul is notably one of the few dancers to cross over into singing. So it was interesting to see how Ballas would manage in another genre. And actually, he managed quite well – just ask the young female fans.
Ballas took the stage with an extremely talented and experienced percussionist, Joel Alpers. Alpers has performed with the likes of Carol King, Herbie Hancock, and many more. Alpers’ drum set up was minimal but he managed to get the most amazing variety of percussion sounds from a cajon – a wooden box drum that the drummer sits on and hits with his bare hands. Ballas’ entrance was fairly dramatic – with a little flamenco fanfare on the guitar and some great rhythm leading into the first track from his CD, “Way You Werk” (yes, that’s how it is spelled). Ballas energetically bounded around the stage, much to the delight of the youthful crowd.
Ballas then introduced 19-year old guitarist Dylan Chambers. Chambers, who actually looks about 14, is extremely impressive for such a youngster. This talent was demonstrated when Ballas broke a string and gave Chambers the stage for two songs – an unlikely Amy Winehouse cover, “Valerie,” and an original, “Just Because.” The original was quite good, and Chambers’ vocal style was reminiscent of Jason Mraz.
String fixed, Ballas returned to the stage and the trio performed the rest of set together. Ballas is confident and clearly very comfortable onstage – telling the story behind each song before singing. His style was somewhat boy-bandish – he doesn’t fear using falsetto, and tends to sing in the higher register, ala Adam Levine of Maroon 5. It worked well as an embellishment, but the one song that was pretty much all in falsetto – “Pretty” – was perhaps a bit too much.
Ballas chose to do some interesting covers, including Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” He and Chambers played well off of each other – taking turns with guitar solos – and clearly enjoying jamming together. The musicians did a couple of cute musical gimmicks, like having the percussionist use the guitars as drums. By the end of the show, a half dozen teenage girls were energetically dancing at the side of the stage. Ballas didn’t do an encore, but closed with the jazzy “All Tied Up” where he sings “I’m gonna tie you up, but I won’t tie you down.” After the show, Ballas came out to meet and greet the scores of fans who were lined up.
This was the first of a new “Reality Rocks” series that Landmark has launched this year. The second show in the series is Justin Guarini, from American Idol, who will be performing on Friday, March 2. For more information, visit www.landmarkonmainstreet.org.