CeeLo Green
Courtesy of CeeLo Green

As public launches go, the AT&T Audience Network’s new series, simply referred to as “Audience Music” (at least for now), couldn’t have set the bar higher than Thursday night’s performance by CeeLo Green and Friends at the Theater At Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

The larger-than-life multi-talent, who most people know from his judging stint on NBC’s “The Voice” and his trademark kaftans, astounded with the depth and breadth of his set, performing a range of recent and classic material from his oeuvre, as well covering everyone from Frank Zappa to Lou Reed to Supertramp. But it was the format that was especially refreshing, with the singer/songwriter-rapper-producer powered by a world-class nine-piece, jazz-oriented band — including three backup singers — that would have done the late singer-provocateur Gil Scott-Heron proud. The prevailing fashion statement was robes.

The affair was dubbed the “Open Heart Acoustic Show,” but CeeLo described his accompaniment as “more jazz than acoustic — it’s cool.” It indeed was cool but also hot, with the singer’s fine-grit tenor in soaring form throughout, whether previewing songs from his recent “Heart Blanche” album, such as the smooth-jazz inflected “Sign of the Times, or dipping into the archives with “Crazy,” his hit with Gnarls Barkley, or his incendiary “Forget You” (the song’s G-rated title). He also covered Supertramp’s “Logical Song” and Reed’s “Perfect Day” in inspired fashion. Jazzman Marcus Anderson’s nimble accompaniment on flute and saxophone helped make this a show for the ages.

The weekly, Friday-night Audience series, which is premiering today on DirecTV & U-verse (available in 26 million homes) with multi-platinum artist Jason Derulo, is loosely structured, geared toward the guest rather than shoehorning the artist into a built-in format. (Other artists scheduled include Kelsea Ballerini, on Feb. 26, and Peter Frampton, on March 4.)

That said, the Derulo show will be done more in the vein of AT&T’s previous “Guitar Center Sessions,” which kicked off in 2010, producing more than 100 episodes and featuring such performers as Buddy Guy and Billy Idol. That series usually consisted of a combination of live music and interview footage.

But for the new initiative, anything goes. “It can be a straight performance, it could be interview, it could be documentary, it could be acoustic,” said Bart Peters, AT&T’s VP of development and production.
“Sometimes there will be an audience, sometimes there won’t. It’s not a rigid format. We just wanted to work with the artist and be able to deliver content to the customer that is unique, and curated every week.”

“Audience Music” is part of a range of music-oriented shows being filmed in ultra high definition 4K that AT&T is developing, including the documentary series “The Pursuit of Tone,” billed as delivering stories “behind the sonic evolution of music’s most influential guitarists”; and “At Guitar Center,” being filmed at that Sunset Blvd. emporium’s Vintage Room, and focusing on emerging artists, said Peters, who added that it will be “very stripped down.”

As for the Ace venue, the refurbished United Artists Theatre originally built in 1927 in grand Spanish Gothic style and considered one of L.A.’s most lavish converted movie palaces, Peters said the series could very well return there for another show. (As he kicked off his performance, Cee-Lo said “When I design my dream home I want it to look like this.”)

“How could you not want to shoot there again,” Peters asked rhetorically. “It’s iconic. Very rarely do you find venues you can walk into and just put light on it.”

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