The Spin doesn't have a blogging acount on our new system yet, so I agreed to file this report for them. Enjoy:
What to say about Monday’s Kelly Clarkson show at the Ryman. Well, for one take, we looked to our companion: “It wasn’t as lame as I expected. I mean…it wasn’t lame at all.” We agree on the lack of lameness but have a more nuanced reading of the American Idol’s performance.
Ms. Clarkson is fascinating as a pop-culture figure. We are constantly inundated with the characterization “girl next door”: Katie Holmes, Jennifer Garner and even, in her more wholesome days, the Britster herself—we don’t know what street those people are living on. But when it comes to Clarkson, you buy it. She doesn’t look like a star. She doesn’t talk like a star. She doesn’t act like a star, invulnerable to attacks on her waistline and character. Auditioning for the very first season of American Idol, she never could have anticipated the cultural touchstone it would become, or what it would mean for her life and any career she hoped for in the music industry.
Despite that, the girl sure-as-hell sings like a star—and well enough to make us forgive those horrendous black spandex bell bottoms. On the final date of her tour, her slyly soulful belt still managed to fill the Ryman to the rafters. Her vocal prowess sounded fresh against a straight-up rock palette—and the occasional horn section. Her set included a smattering of hits, quite a few deep cuts and two Patti Griffin covers. (The girl should just quit now and become an Americana star.) No matter what she sang, the crowd responded with glee. And it wasn’t a room full of teenyboppers. There were older couples and plenty of women in their twenties, who no doubt grew up with the star—going from precious power-ballad optimism to broken-hearted bitterness right alongside the pop princess. It was her most recent album My December’s healthy dose of kiss-off songs (man, do we have a weakness for those) that elicited the most emotional reaction from the sold-out crowd.
Overall, her newer, less glossy material was a cut above. And even on the few mightily terrible pop songs, her vocal acrobatics kept us from a full-blown eye roll. The highlight of the whole evening was a stripped-down version of “Because of You,” performed with only piano accompaniment. Freed from all its bellicose ballad swoops and swells, the letter to her faulty father emerged as a pitch-perfect pop song: just vague enough so almost anyone can relate. Who hasn’t felt damaged by someone close to them?
So, what is it about this reluctant pop star—besides her powerful pipes—that makes her so endearing? Well, there’s the whole battle-against-her-evil-record-label thing. You’d think selling millions of records would earn you some creative freedom. Not so much. Clive Davis tried to shelve My December, encouraged her to bring in more professional songwriters and found the more rocking direction unpalatable. She fought back and won. You go girl!
And since we’ve already admitted our penchant for kiss-off songs (not to mention girl-power anthems), we’ll go ahead and argue that we believe her heartache, moreso than that of more plastic pop icons. During the encore, she busted out My December’s secret track “Chivas” and haltingly recalled an anecdote about being out drinking, running into an ex and then deciding to get even drunker. Talk about relatable!
By the time she closed out the evening with the inevitable (but still wonderful) “Since U Been Gone,” if felt a bit like an artifact from her run as a ginormous pop star. The new Kelly Clarkson has been liberated by her recent “failure.” She can play venues like the Ryman and cover Patti Griffin and move towards a career that’s about her incredible voice—the thing she always had going for her in the first place.