Music News & Reviews

Charlie Puth turns on the soul at Starlight, charms fans with shirtless moment

Charlie Puth performed at Starlight Theatre Thursday, Aug. 9.
Charlie Puth performed at Starlight Theatre Thursday, Aug. 9. Chris Pizzello/Invision

Charlie Puth conducted an ingenious bait-and-switch maneuver at Starlight Theatre on Thursday.

The New Jersey native attracted more than 6,000 fans eager to hear his ingratiating pop songs.

Rather than recreating the slick sound of his hits, he played sublime jazz-inflected R&B interpretations of his repertoire for a crowd dominated by children and young women.

Like many recently minted pop stars, Puth, 26, first found fame by posting videos to YouTube. In addition to acquiring ardent admirers, the graduate of the Berklee College of Music attracted the attention of music industry professionals impressed by his commercial potential.

Much like Bruno Mars, Puth specializes in retooling the sounds of previous decades.

Puth has admitted that he had yet to find his voice when his debut album “Nine Track Mind” was released in 2016. His new album “Voicenotes” is a far more assured outing.

Fresh interpretations of his two biggest early hits were as startling as they were welcome.

“Marvin Gaye,” a song that is woefully disrespectful to the legacy of the late soul icon, was given a cocktail lounge-style treatment.

Puth and his superb four-piece band improved his breakout hit “See You Again” by diminishing its maudlin elements.

Sublimely soulful versions of Puth’s new material were the highlights of his 80-minute outing. The blissful pop confection “Boy” was interrupted by a Puth keyboard solo that evoked the jazz-fusion master Bob James.

His keytar work on “How Long,” a song that’s a delightful homage to “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson, would have pleased the genre-bending genius Herbie Hancock.

Puth’s admirers didn’t seem to mind the stylistic makeover. They sang along with most songs and patiently abided the instrumental improvisations.

Giving loyalists a lot to look at didn’t hurt.

When the sleek production didn’t resemble an upscale dance club, the backdrop of live video footage often focused on Puth’s athletic physique.

The urgency of fans’ screams heightened in intensity when he took off his tight muscle shirt during the sultry “Done For Me.”

Puth behaved like the cheeky lead actor in a high school musical who had the sudden realization that his considerable talent had captivated everyone in the gymnasium.

Unlike Hailee Steinfeld, the actress who failed to make a convincing case for her music career in a lackluster opening set, Puth seems to be on the verge of even greater artistic achievements.

Set list: The Way I Am; Slow It Down; How Long; Empty Cups; LA Girls; Marvin Gaye; Patient; Change; We Don’t Talk Anymore; Somebody Told Me; Done for Me; Suffer; One Call Away; Attention; Boy; See You Again