Concert Review – Sara Evans at the Cape Cod Melody Tent

Not since Jennifer Nettles brought her lead-with-passion approach to modern country has a singer enthralled me like Sara Evans did last night at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, MA. She left her blood and guts on the stage as she powered through massive hit single after massive hit single. Sounding even better live than she could ever come across on record, Evans had me in a trance and didn’t let go until the show ended.

Her ability to gracefully overcome her inability to arrive at the venue on time (her private plane was grounded for two hours in Birmingham, Ala, where she lives) had an impatient audience ready and willing to forgive her and just get on with the show. With her raven locks in a tight pony-tail (the result of not having enough time for hair and makeup), she playfully engaged the crowd and exuded likeability rare among entertainers of her stature.

When the band launched into her opening number, a peculiar thing happened to me. I didn’t recognize the song or even the opening verse as she started singing, yet I knew every word, and obviously knew the song. For some unknown reason, I just couldn’t place it. The song was in fact “As If” the only hit single to stem from her 2007 Greatest Hits package. She followed it up with her top 5 hit “Perfect” and then launched into her signature song “Born to Fly,” which I fully expected her to leave until the encore.

On “Cheatin’” Evans brought the already biting lyrics to new heights. When singing the opening, “you say you’re everyday/is a bad dream that keeps repeating,” she slowed it down even further than on the album track and dug twice as deep with her twang, revealing nuances in her vocal ability I hadn’t heard before. Her band smartly gave her room to breathe during the opening and hinder the audience’s enjoyment of her vocal.

Evans than span her entire career with renditions of “I Keep Looking,” which she dedicated to all the women in the audience, and “Coalmine” which she dedicated to all the men. The country/bluegrass shuffle of “Coalmine” was a welcomed surprise although a tad puzzling. Only a minor hit when released as a single in 2006, it’s easily one of her lesser known songs to anyone who isn’t a diehard fan so I was left wondering about its inclusion in her set, although it made for a very entertaining moment and allowed Evans room to act playful with her band.

Midway though she explained her reasons for retreating from recording over the last few years, her now three-year marriage to football player Jay Barker, and the blending of their families, which together, makes up seven children. She joked that once the reality set in, she booked five years of non-stop touring. This led to the only talk of her new album Stronger and an explanation of her new single, a cover of Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” a song she always loved, and wanted to turn into a country hit. Singing the fire out of it, it was difficult to see where the negative single reviews stemmed from. I happen to love this cover of the song, and really dig the vibe she was going for. Hearing the song live was the difference; the album track pails greatly in comparison.

Evans followed-up “My Heart Can’t Tell You No” with her most-recent #1 “A Little Bit Stronger,” a song she found at the end of the recording sessions for Stronger and new she just had to record. It easily got the biggest rise out of the audience and it was clear to me, judging from crowd reaction, why the song became such an anthem.

Following the only talk of her most recent album, Evans told a story about growing up on a working farm in Missouri. She talked about the culture of where she came from, where you’d date boys in pick-up trucks and if the parents disapproved, it only made you love them more. I knew instantly where she was going with this, and I was right. It all led to “Suds In The Bucket,” her 2004 #1 smash.

Songs like “Bucket” and “Coalmine” were moments where Evans and her band could interact playfully. With “Bucket,” each member of her band raised a foot in the air, to signal the whole barefoot aspect of the song. Being at a venue that intimate and sitting so close to the stage, you’re able to enjoy little moments that get lost when an artist is playing for huge crowds.

Just when I thought there wasn’t anything else left to sing, they launched into another #1, “Real Fine Place To Start.” At the beginning of that song, it hit me just how many hit singles she’s had. She’d been on hiatus so long, I’d forgotten about all the great music she’s released over the years.

After “Start” Evans proved a slight benefit to having private plane issues. Instead of leaving the stage and coming back for an encore, she had the audience ask her for one without loosing anymore time. The funny thing is, it was during the “encore” where the night got most interesting.

Evans talked about how she’s always loved Tammy Wynette and when thinking about what classic song to put into her show only one came to mind. I fully expected her to sing “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” a track she contributed to the tribute album to Wynette in 1998. Instead she launched into a perfect cover of “Stand By Your Man.” I loved the classic country vibe and as usual, she sang the fire out of it. Only problem is, I couldn’t get Hillary Clinton’s comment from 60 Minutes out of my head. But of course, that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the song.

Her second “encore” song was a bluegrass-y cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me.” I love how she made such an recognizable song country. In thinking back, it reminds of something Evans said when Bill Anderson interviewed her on the TNN show Opry Backstage in 1998 – no matter what, everything she sings is going to come out country. In the case, that proved very true.

As a diehard country fan, and a lover of Evans’s music, I had a hard time believing “I Want You To Want Me” was the end of the show. She left the stage, and I fully expected her to come back for one final encore. I didn’t believe the show was over until the lights came on and everyone filed out of the venue. I wanted her to come back because of one thing – Evans didn’t sing her breakthrough hit “No Place That Far!” I couldn’t understand why of all the songs in her catalog she would exclude her first #1, yet she sang a Cheap Trick cover and “Coalmine,” which bombed when it was released to radio.

But that oversight didn’t dampen my experience in the least. I came away from the show in love with Evans all over again. I still can’t believe she hasn’t won a CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award yet. The ACM were smart enough to recognize her in 2004, but it’s about time the CMA follow suit. And she’s so much better live than she’ll ever be able to come off on record. If you haven’t seen her, and get a chance to, go. You will not be disappointed.

Her humor, which became overkill at times, was the biggest surprise for me. I’ve said it before in this review, but she really is playful and flirty on stage. I loved how loose she was. The great benefit of a concert at The Melody Tent was how the stage, like sister venue The South Shore Music Circus, spins. Evans made a joke that she had to stay inside the stage in order to keep spinning. Since if you don’t, you end up playing to one section of the audience too much.

Which wasn’t an issue for opening act Jake Hill, a local musician who’s recently gotten exposure from Almost Famous, a new local music show on 95.9 WATD, the radio station I intern at. He was able to play the stage and the crowd. This was my second time to see him perform in this setting, he opened for Huey Lewis and The News last summer.

While he performed a solid set, I wasn’t blown over by his music because it isn’t my style. He isn’t a country singer, but that doesn’t matter. He just isn’t the type of singer I like for long periods of time. But that’s me and no reflection on his set, which was very good.

In a lot of ways he reminded me of both a singer-songwriter  from Texas and Delbert McClinton. That’s the best way I can describe him. Hill’s best song came at the end ofhis set when he covered Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobbi McGee.” He did such a great job and even had Kistofferson’s almost-drunken wayward singing abilities down. It was the highlight of his set and a great kickoff to a memorable evening.

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2 Responses to “Concert Review – Sara Evans at the Cape Cod Melody Tent”

  1. Ron Says:

    We were there, too; and have to agree with you. Sara is THE BEST!

  2. Ben Foster Says:

    Loved this piece! Reminds me of how much I love Sara Evans’ music, and of how much it kills me that I’m still waiting on a chance to see her live! It’s great to hear that she was in such fine voice, and I’ve got to say, I’m very happy to hear that she continues to recognize “Coalmine” by including it in her sets. I think it’s one of the best and coolest-sounding singles of her career. It should have been a big hit, and if not for the unfortunate timing of its release coinciding with a coal mining disaster, it probably would have been. (Bummer that she didn’t do “No Place That Far” though)

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