Concert Review – Kelly Clarkson Stronger Tour – Wang Theatre – Jan 26, 2011

It seems like Kelly Clarkson is everywhere. She had an Unplugged special on VH1 last November, she sang on the AMA Awards and VH1 Divas Soul, was announced as a mentor on Blake Shelton’s team for The Voice, and she performed as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. And not to be out done on the biggest night in sports, she’s singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.

I hardly remember a similar media blitz in her ten year career. Clarkson’s mangers and publicity people seem to be working overtime to make sure she has her fill of the spotlight. In between all these events, she’s also touring.

I never knew I wanted to see Clarkson in concert until I saw a notice about her Stronger tour from her Facebook page. I looked over the dates and found she was coming to the Boston Area at the end of Jan. I really wanted to go, but getting tickets proved challenging as they were already on sale and likely sold out. But being persistent paid off as good seats, too good to pass up, became available.

I don’t have a distinct recollection of ever attending a show at The Citi Performing Arts Wang Theater before, so I was really looking forward to the experience. I love the old classy theaters in Boston and have seen many a musical in town. This was my first “rock” concert at such a venue and it worked surprisingly well.

Lexington, MA native Matt Nathanson got the night rolling with a spirited 45 minute set. I was as excited to see him, despite a little dread that his pop/rock style wouldn’t be my cup of tea. But he proved me wrong and won me over with his charm.

He mostly stuck to songs from his latest Modern Love including the boy meets girl “Faster,” which is the project’s best known single. He also did a wonderful solo performance of “Run” his sexy duet with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland.

But what stuck out to me the most, was Nathanson’s humor. He repeatedly referred to himself as six when he made jokes about always wanting to play at the Wang and said that the bushes outside were trimmed to make the Wang look bigger. Frat boy humor, perhaps, but it surprisingly didn’t repulse me.

He made a third male gentile joke prior to performing his song “Under The Sea” in which he referenced The Little Mermaid and the castle in the background not really being a castle. He also said the song “Under The Sea,” from the film, was very suggestive. He wrote his own in attempt to restore the G-rated aspects of our oceans.

But the highlight of his set, for me, was the band introductions. He pointed out that his lead guitar player was also from his hometown of Lexington and went down the line for the others and named Massachusetts towns they wish they were from. For one he said, “I bet he wishes he was from Clinton.” And for another, “He wishes he was from Duxbury. Anyone from Duxbury?” We had to cheer, as that’s the town we just moved to. I still can’t believe he said that.

Nathanson went on to sing other hits including “Room @ The End of The World” and “Modern Love” which he said he wrote for a friend who couldn’t find a guy who wasn’t uninterested, taken, or involved with another man. He closed with his most recognized hit, “Come On Get Higher” which Sugarland put on their Love On The Inside CD. It had the crowd standing up and singing along.

But the night was hardly about Nathanson and his fabulous blend of acoustic folk/rock. (Thank goodness he could actually be heard). This evening belonged to Clarkson.

Her set began with the stage and band hidden behind a curtain that flashed all the nasty rumors she’s faced over the years – “29 and still single?” “FAT!” “Album Leak” “Another album leak” before launching into “Dark Side.” She quickly followed up with “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “Since U Been Gone,” which I would’ve thought to come much later in her set.

She then rolled though “Gone,” which she added back into her set at the request of her fans, and a cover of Florence + The Machine’s “Heavy In Your Arms.” I wasn’t familiar with the tune, complete with a beating heart flashing behind her, but it made sense after she explained her love for Annie Lennox. (Clarkson feels Welch is the modern day equivalent).

Always one to put some variety in her show, Clarkson gathered her band “in the round” and did a wonderful acoustic set. She took this time to gush about her ten year career, time on Idol, and how she cannot believe she’s released five albums. To celebrate, she sang a song from each – “The Trouble With Love Is” (from Thankful), “Walk Away” (From Breakaway), “How I Feel” (From My December), and “I Want You” (From All I Ever Wanted). The medley worked very well and it was nice to see an artist so willing to celebrate their musical journey opposed to run away from the songs that built their career.

Another highlight of her set was the “fan request.” Fans from the show submit songs ahead of time via her website. For the Boston show, the song was Heart’s “What About Love.” I thought the selection was a little cheesy (80s power ballad, really?) but in Clarkson’s hands it was incredible. It was also an excuse for Clarkson to admit to loving Ann Wilson and saying she’s her favorite singer in the world. (It was also surprisingly under produced. Goes to show how cluttered production has come in the decades since).

Throughout the night she made a detour into country and went where I didn’t think was possible for her to go. I didn’t know how they would pull off “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” but down came the curtain again to reveal a fifteen foot high Jason Aldean video graphic. I’d heard about these kinds of things being done, but seeing it in person was really cool.

She also sang “I Know You Won’t,” the Carrie Underwood song she’s been covering. Clarkson told the story of hearing Underwood sing it in Las Vegas and knowing she had to “steal it.” After hearing it on Unplugged, I was pleasantly surprised she put it into her set. It’s even better live than on TV.

But the highlights of the night weren’t the songs. I know I’ve been using the term “infectious” a lot in my descriptions of Clarkson’s melodies, but it also applies to her personality. The way she interacted with her fans was to make us feel right at home, like we were visiting an old friend.

Most of all Clarkson is funny. She has an adorable sense of humor that hits you in all the right places. She has a tendency to talk very fast, but it doesn’t matter, though, because Clarkson is one of the most relatable people out there. At one point she said “Don’t follow me on Twitter, I have nothing relevant to say” (a jab at her Ron Paul endorsement, I’m sure).

She also had fun talking about her upcoming Super Bowl gig, and genuine support of the Patriots. Clarkson also confessed her desire to crash Madonna’s Half Time set by being a backup singer and dancing on stage. (I’d kill to see that).

I also love how she made the observation that Boston fans are just as passionate as those from her home state of Texas. That made me feel good.

Of course, she can also be deadly serious. When the video screen started showing us pictures of Clarkson’s trip to Africa while she talked about her experiences with orphans, I was sort of rolling my eyes. These moments can be seen as platform pandering, and edging ever close to Natalie Maines territory. But she didn’t ask for money (thank goodness) and it all led into her song “You Don’t Know What It’s Like.”

Clarkson than went on to sing her slightly re-worked “Already Gone” and revel in the experience of having the fans sing “Breakaway” back to her. She her main set with “Suck” (as she calls “My Life Would Suck Without You”) and “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger).”

For her encore, she opened with her stunning Adele-like reworking of “Never Again,” which turned the rocker into a biting piano ballad. It’s another suggestion by a fan (notice a trend? Clarkson has some very insightful fans).

She then launched into “Because Of You” after explaining her Reba McEntire connection. I didn’t think she was going to sing it and it was great to put it here before “Mr. Know It All.”

The show closed with, arguably, her only misstep of the night (aside from never even mentioning Nathanson at all). “Miss Independent,”  her thumper from Thankful, should be retired. It was painful to listen to and actually hurt my ears. I’ve never been near tears before at a concert so this was a first. But she does have to honor where she’s come from.

When all was said and done, I didn’t like but love Kelly Clarkson. It was another of those musical moments I’ll have forever. She has the attitude of a country singer (real person displaying real feelings) and it shows.

It’s so refreshing to see an artist in the pop world who doesn’t have to rely on crazy hair dye and cone bras to be noticed. There wasn’t a crazy outfit or stunt in sight. In our Lady Gaga/Katy Perry saturated world that could be an issue but none of Clarkson’s fans seemed to notice or even care. Authenticity wins out over gimmicks every single time.

Clarkson started the night by saying “I’ll be singing 25 songs. You’re bound to like some of them.” Judging by the crowd reaction and my own personal enjoyment, she was absolutely right.

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