Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 24, 2012
POP CULTURE: Concert Review: Kelly Clarkson at Radio City Music Hall, 1/21/12
I try to write up here every concert I go to. I've written more than enough about pop singer Kelly Clarkson lately (most recently here; 2009 concert review here), so I will be brief; my wife and I saw her show at Radio City Music Hall on Saturday night.
Radio City, if you haven't been there - I'd previously only been there for the Christmas show - is a fantastic concert venue, at least if you prefer good sightlines and great acoustics and comfortable seating to intense, sweaty mosh pits. It's probably second only to Jones Beach among the concert venues I've attended. Like the Empire State Building, Radio City has retained the style of the 1930s, to the point where you feel like you're in an old movie stepping through its doors - a perfect fit, in some ways, for Clarkson's retro nature as a wholesome entertainer and traditional vocalist; the theater is built like the inside of a 1930s-era radio. Clarkson overflowed with kid-in-a-candy-store enthusiasm for playing there, openly whooping and hollering at how excited she was and mentioning that she'd never even been inside the place before.
The Opening Act
Clarkson had one rather than two opening acts this time around, pop/rock singer Matt Nathanson, who is touring with his first album since 2007's Some Mad Hope. My wife had that album and I listened to it and only liked a few songs, so I was pleasantly surprised when he opened with the one I did like, To The Beat of Our Noisy Hearts. His new material includes more upbeat stuff in that vein, to the point where we'll probably pick up the album. He was talkative and at ease, and yet another reminder how even many male singer-songwriter types these days are influenced by Bono as vocalists.
The Main Event
It's never possible to recapture the magic of the first time you see a musician in concert, and this show was different in a number of ways from the Clarkson show we caught in 2009. The overall presentation was much more upscale and professional, losing along the way some of the rough charm of Clarkson's sweaty, bare-bones rock show on the last tour. The crowd, given a weekend show in a larger, pricier venue, was heavier with families, although as with the last show we were surrounded by a number of large, burly gay men. The stage was well-lit this time, including a blinding strobe light for Let Me Down, the song off her latest album with a John Bonham-sized beat. The horn section and DJ were gone (I missed the horns, but they didn't go as well with this album's material), replaced by a third backup singer, and Clarkson was a little thinner and better dressed, but still as chatty and self-effacing as always. She joked about still being single as well as making reference to her penchant for feuds and hell-hath-no-fury songs, noting that I Forgive You, one of the songs off her latest album, is clearly one she could not have written. Clarkson, typical of her attitude towards criticism, entered to a series of graphics of harsh media and internet jabs at her, including immediately preceding her entrance with huge red lettering declaring her "FAT," something I'm quite sure other female pop stars would not embrace.
It's a mark of Clarkson's confidence in the depth of her setlist by now, almost a decade into her career, that she played one of her biggest hits, Behind These Hazel Eyes, as the show's second song, and her signature hit, Since U Been Gone, as the third. On the whole she ended up playing 7 of the 17 songs on her new album (my wife was rather miffed that there weren't more) off her new album, Stronger, which may well be her best and certainly her most 1980s-influenced. That includes her hit country duet with Jason Aldean, who appeared as a 15-foot-tall hologram.
Clarkson has matured tremendously as a vocalist over the years - on the whole, maturity suits her well - and she put that and her famous versatility to great use doing a variety of covers: rock with Florence and the Machine's Heavy in Your Arms (on which Clarkson's voice is a great improvement from the dreary Florence Welch), country with a heartfelt, bluesy version of Carrie Underwood's ballad I Know You Won't, Broadway with the Funny Girl tune My Man (Clarkson's taking requests on this tour over Twitter, and got a request to sing something Broadway), and a special tribute to the recently-departed Etta James (whose standard At Last Clarkson had sung 10 years ago in her original American Idol audition), with a cover of her blues song I'd Rather Go Blind. And as usual, she reworked some of her own stuff, redoing the blazing rocker Never Again as an anguished piano ballad. And she also offered an unreleased track, You Still Won't Know What It's Like, that she'd written on a trip to a South African orphanage.
I'd Rather Go Blind:
Heavy In Your Arms: