Marijke Rowland: Corbett plays to the crowd at Modesto's State Theatre

01/30/2014 12:00 AM

01/30/2014 3:59 PM

Performance, they say, is all about knowing your audience.

Be it the golf clap set or the boogie woogie bunch, understanding your fans can make the difference between a standing ovation and early walk-outs.

Call actor-singer-Walgreens pitchman John Corbett what you will, but the man knows his audience. The former “Sex and the City”/“Northern Exposure”/“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and current “Parenthood” star returned to Modesto for the first time in almost a decade Friday night to play the State Theatre. Like his first two visits in 2005 at the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge, the crowd tipped heavily to the XX chromosomed. As he came out on stage, Corbett said what many were thinking, “Yes, Aidan is here.”

Corbett, clad in a white button-up shirt, jeans and a black leather vest, finished his first song and then gleefully greeted the audience with his favorite nickname for the city, one he would continue to use all night. The name came from the overly amorous fans at this earlier Fat Cat shows who wanted to reach out and touch the TV heartthrob inappropriately.

“We excitedly refer to your town as ‘Molesto’ all the time. We’re happy to be back,” he said before launching into his catalog of country-rock songs from his two albums.

Corbett acknowledged the largely female audience in attendance again this time. The crowd, which filled a little more than half of the 500-seat State Theatre, was a mix of fans. Middle-age women, 20-something women, and beleaguered boyfriends/husbands.

Among the latter two categories were my seatmates, a young couple whose female half chattered excitedly about how much she loved Corbett in “Sex and the City.” And then, as he began performing, she told her boyfriend repeatedly how cute “he” was. Not the boyfriend, mind you – Corbett.

Sure, men get to pretty much rule the world. But ladies do pick their moments to exact their revenge.

That same boyfriend sat patiently as his girlfriend and mini-mob of women left their other halves in their seats to dance around the stage at Corbett’s instruction. See, know your audience.

Whether the 52-year-old star (yes, 52 – I guess getting dumped by Carrie Bradshaw is good for one’s constitution) was a good musician wasn’t really the point. He was accompanied by a talented backing band – lead guitarist, bassist and drummer – who filled the theater with a full, rich sound. Corbett’s vocals lacked range but got stronger as the evening wore on. He excused his scratchy throat as caused by “the handshake cold” from meeting so many fans after shows.

But, let’s be honest, people didn’t come for his soaring musical prowess. They came for his warm smile and the romantic memories of him as Aidan Shaw or Chris Stevens or Ian Miller. Hell, even the State’s own show poster touted Corbett bringing his “music and sexy” to Modesto.

Know your audience, know your audience, know your audience.

One of the night’s highlights was less of a know-your-audience and more of join-your-audience moment.

When Tracy resident Ellie Binkley handed Corbett a slip of paper about halfway through his show, he assumed at first it was some sort of love note from a fan who had enjoyed the cocktail bar in the lobby too much before the show. But instead it was a request from the 54-year-old to sing one of Corbett’s songs on stage with him in honor of her husband’s 64th birthday, which was that day.

So Corbett gamely let Binkley on stage to sing “Good To Go.”

“It ain’t easy. I am scared s---less every night before I do this. For one reason: f------ judgment,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of balls if you want to come up here and sing one of our hit songs. This is either going to be great or a train wreck,” he said. “But come on up here.”

It turned out to be pretty great. And sweet. And made us all like Aidan/Chris/Ian, I mean Corbett, all that much more. And then, as if to gild the lily of his likability, Corbett stayed for about an hour after the show, giving out autographs and hugs to anyone who asked in the theater’s lobby.

Like I was saying, know your audience.

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