Rosemont Theatre-Rosemont, IL
October 27, 2009
By Anthony Kuzminski
“Lies, lies, lies, ohh lies”…these are the words that escape delicately from Kelly Clarkson amidst a dimly lit stage with only a guitarist and piano. This is a long way from in-your-face pop stardom, but it’s where Clarkson is most at home. The Black Keys song (“Lies”) is pouring out of Clarkson like a tear-inducing confessional as she is ripping out a piece of her soul and sharing it with the audience. Her voice swells like a fifty piece orchestra as she seems to bring the emotions of the song to the forefront for everyone to connect to. One can’t help but be struck by what an unlikely pop star Kelly Clarkson truly is. For over ninety-minutes at the Rosemont Theatre (just outside of Chicago), Clarkson with her dreamlike voice evoked epic emotions. If you think you know who Kelly Clarkson is from television and what you hear on the radio, you are seeing a mere fraction of her essence. On her latest concert tour, her sprawling talents are on full display as she shifts between her pop hits, forgotten hymns and some choice cover versions that leave you in astonishment. Besides having one of the greatest singing voices ever to grace popular music, she has an acute admiration for music in general. Covering songs by artists as eclectic as Patsy Cline, the Black Keys and the Kings of Leon, Clarkson attempted shine a light on lesser known artists who deserve their moment in the spotlight. The tip of the hat she gave these acts was more than mere exuberance, she took each of these songs to heights the originators may not have been even aware they could reach, proving that a song doesn’t need to be on the radio to be great. Clarkson has been blessed with a gift so compelling, she could part a sea with it. She is a remarkable talent and like Sinatra, when she sings a song, whether she wrote it or not, she completely and utterly owns it.
Opening the concert with “All I Ever Wanted”, the title-track from her latest LP, it was followed immediately by “Miss Independent” from her debut record. What I initially thought would be merely an evening of fun, turned into something much more profound. Clarkson’s crowd welcomed her with open arms and when the band launched into “I Do Not Hook Up”, the crowd vociferously reacted and sung at the top of their lungs. Supporting her was an eclectic eleven-piece band that was succinct and precise but never icy. The band congealed into a wall of sound. More than mere hired musicians, there appeared to be an unspoken bond between them, a rarity for a group of musicians supporting a solo artist. The entire set list was meticulously paced sprinkled with new songs (“If I Can’t Have You”), covers (an acoustic rendering of Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight”) and megahits (“Because of You”). The Alanis Morissette/Kings of Leon mash-up “That I Would Be Good/ Use Somebody” was serendipitous as it was ingenious. The combination of these two songs clicked in a way that only Clarkson could make possible. It was a signal of the deep veneration Clarkson has for all styles of music. She doesn’t want her audience to live in a sheltered world of radio hits; she encourages them to look beyond the radio dial. “Breakaway” soared as she wrapped the audience around her finger in the process. As she sung “I'll do what it takes till I touch the sky”, you feel a sense of warmth overtake you and fill you with purpose. As I watched her luminous and radiant face sing “Breakaway”, I felt I was watching something more than a routine, but someone sharing a deep conversation with me. There was a level of intimacy to the evening that is rare these days. Clarkson has been graced by God above with a talent so staggering that it’s mouth gaping. Listening to her voice is enough to make you feel as if the clouds have dissipated and the sun is gleaming down on you.
Every song was performed by Clarkson as if it was a part of her own journey and was completely at home on the concert stage, even forgoing shoes as she pranced across the stage barefoot. She did more than show up and sing her songs; she created a bond between herself and the audience by oozing sincerity. As she chatted with the audience in-between songs, she came off as someone you have known your whole life and not someone who is unapproachable. Most of the world fell in love with her on American Idol in 2002 and while I was aware of her, I didn’t pay attention to the show or even her career. However, as time has progressed, she continued to astound me. Seven years and four albums later, Clarkson has established a rapport with her audience and they’re not going anywhere any time soon based on the fervent reactions of the Chicago crowd.
Kelly Clarkson comes off as an artist who is restless, takes chances and will not force feed her audience. She could play it easy and appease the suits at her record company, but she is motivating not just herself but her audience as well with every performance. She opens her audience to new (and possibly difficult) music and most importantly, she challenges everyone who comes to see her to seek out other artists and music. “Behind Those Hazel Eyes”, a tear down the walls rocker was done acoustically bringing the intimacy of the lyric to the forefront signifying her songs don’t need layers of sheen, because her voice compliments the songs in even the starkest arrangements. “Never Again”, began with a Euro synch beat before the band tore through it like a bat out of hell .While watching Clarkson, I knew that she was not a pop star, but an artists with layers of complexity beneath her. “I Want You”, from her latest record All I Ever Wanted has a Phil Spector quality to it. It’s pure bubblegum pop while being simultaneously auspicious. “Already Gone”, her latest single, was delivered in a laid back arrangement without the studio flash and pizzazz. She turns the song on its head, not something most people would be willing to do with their current single. If that wasn’t enough, “Walk Away” featured her horn section up front and center. Even on her most celebrated hits, Clarkson was rearranging and presenting them in novel, innovative and enlivening arrangements that are every bit as endearing as the ones we fell in love with.
The end of the show provided a potent jolt of turbocharged harmony. “Since You Been Gone” shook the theater like a classic AC/DC anthem. It’s as thunderous as any stadium anthem, demonstrated best by the Chicago newspaper reporter two seats down from me who threw her notebook and pen on the ground and threw her arms to the air as her hair covered her face from the quake of the crowd while screaming the lyrics on the top of her lungs. Opening the encore was the impassioned soul-styled testimonial, “Sober”. An argument can be made this is her greatest accomplishment as a songwriter. The pained ballad brought a windfall of perseverance. This song should have been something more than a lost track, but her record company didn’t give it the push it deserved. Requested by a fan at a meet and greet earlier in the day, Clarkson dusted this one off and based on the intensity with which she delivered this pining ballad, it should be a nightly staple. Just when you feel as if there couldn’t be any further revelations, the band ripped into “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes. In a full-band rave up, the song exploded off the stage as all eleven members of the band breathed life into this unanticipated cover. Highlighting the song was a three-piece horn section giving the song righteous sonic weight that would make even Jack White smile with glee. If that wasn’t enough, the evening’s finale, “My Life Would Suck Without You” proved to be potently irresistible in its superbly unsubtle delivery. Flexing a range of musical styles and perfect pacing, Kelly Clarkson did everything right. She is someone who through her enthusiasm and fortitude has become more than a television star, but someone who is without question, a truly significant artist. Her name elicits a barrage of misconceptions, but in the end, Kelly Clarkson will have the last laugh at her critics, as she will undoubtedly have a career while those who try and derail her will be on the sidelines watching. This is a young woman whose true beauty is unleashed every time a harmonious note escapes from her lips. It’s as if she’s sharing a piece of her soul with us and purging a demon simultaneously every time she sings. There are performers who do this for celebrity and ego, Kelly Clarkson does it because she has no other choice. That is what differentiates artists from celebrities. If Clarkson wasn’t singing to sold-out crowds, she would be somewhere in Texas singing her ass off because it soothes her soul. In Clarkson’s incandescent voice, we see the past, the present and most importantly the future. Music puts a time stamp on our emotions and the stakes are high, because we invest ourselves in these songs and the artists who create this music. Clarkson’s music is far more than mere product or distraction but something we all attach ourselves to and invest in; a penicillin for our troubles if you will. Music isn’t a vehicle for fame and fortune for Kelly Clarkson, it’s a lifeline for her to express herself and hopefully in the process she shares something with those willing to listen. If you haven’t been listening up to now, it’s time you start, you’ll be surprised at what you discover.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.