Show Review: Kelly Clarkson with Carolina Liar at The Event Center at San Jose State University, 3/27/12

by Dakin Hardwick on April 2, 2012

Photos by Tom Owen

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to interview legendary bassist Mike Watt. We spoke about a lot of things, including many of his musical projects. As any good journalist does, I made sure to ask him about his sessions working with Kelly Clarkson on her underrated 2007 release My December. His response was great. He said, “Working on the record was a lot of fun. They gave me a lot of freedom to experiment in the studio, and Kelly was very sweet. She had a great voice and learned to sing in the church. Somebody told me that she also won a game show or something. I get asked about this a lot. Is she famous?” It was in interesting response. This is one of the most famous singers to emerge from the last decade, yet to the people that she worked with, one would never be the wiser. This humility could be either good or bad for a live performance. Luckily, I had the opportunity to make a rare journey into San Jose to see her play live. I was hoping it was worth the journey.

The support act was originally booked as Matt Nathanson, a pretty big star in his own right, but he had to bow out of this show a week ahead of time. Instead, the considerably lesser known Carolina Liar had some rather big shoes to fill. Some bands will take this opportunity to put in 110% to win over the crowd. Sadly, Carolina Liar did not do that. Instead, we had a lackluster performance that was both light in energy and emotion. Lead singer Chad Wolfe played the crowd as if he were reprising Russell Brand’s role in Get Him To The Greek. It’s a shame, because there were some good songs hidden underneath it all. They simply weren’t ready to play this size room, this early. I think a few more years of hitting the clubs will do this band some good.

Clarkson opened up with the new wave inspired ballad “Darkside.” The singer and band performed the song behind a curtain while images of tabloid headlines washed across the stage. It was the first and last time the show felt like a typical pop show. Midway through, they dropped the curtain to show a modest sized rock band with three back up singers, making way for the second movement of the song; when the intensity burst we moved into a full throttle rock show. In a very gutsy move, she went from opening with a deep cut off the new album to pulling out her two biggest hits off her 2004 breakthrough Breakaway: “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and the anthem “Since U Been Gone.” As expected from any song that could qualify itself as an anthem of a generation, it got the crowd on it’s feet, and not a single person in the 5,000 capacity hall sat down again.

She didn’t say a word to the crowd during the first portion of the set. She did a dark and moving cover of Florence + The Machine’s “Heavy In Your Arms,” with the band stripped down to just bass and drums, as well as Clarkson’s stellar voice. It was a surprising cover, but worked very well. Clarkson’s soulful, bluesy voice helped make the song her own. I didn’t even realize it was a cover until she talked about it after the song.

This was her first moment talking to us, and it was a a fascinating shift. She sang five songs all with a ferocious intensity while totally owning the stage. When she spoke to us, it was calm and casual. Her Texas charm comes through, and she simply comes off as somebody that just loves music. She was practically glowing when she spoke about her admiration of Florence + The Machine. There was nothing calculated or scripted about this banter; it was a true love. This set the tone for the rest of the show. No longer did it feel like a big budget pop show. It felt like a band playing songs that just happened to have one of the greatest singers in America.

We were treated to a short semi-acoustic set that featured the 2nd of three covers, Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain,” followed by the witty new song “Einstein”, and an acoustic blues take on her disco hit “Walk Away.” This format allowed for her to really show of her impressive vocal range. I was seated directly behind the soundboard, and it was a treat to watch the the soundboard light up while she was showing off her vocal pyrotechnics.

The band returned to full electric splendor, emerging with a somewhat creepy performance of her duet with Jason Aldean, “Do You Want To Stay,” featuring a giant Jason Aldean projected above the stage. For a show so light on big staging, it was a bit weird to see something so bloated. Happily, it was brief, and we got a return to real Kelly Clarkson. Her voice remained beautiful, her energy high, but her banter casual. She kept talking about how sweaty she was getting on stage. She provoked the audience into wishing her bassist a happy birthday. She came off more like a slightly socially awkward, nerdy girl with a great voice that everyone likes because she’s just so nice.

Her show ended with a four song encore that seemed to split the two sides of Clarkson pretty nicely. Clarkson and her pianist re-arranged the My December hard driving rock song “Never Again” as a dark, dissonant ballad. She joked about how much she liked it more than the original arrangement, and that she must be “deeply disturbed.” The band came back out for a tear jerking version of “Because Of You,” only to close the show with the double header of “Stronger” and a great, audience call and response version of “My Live Would Suck Without You.” Clarkson proved that she is a more than capable live performer that deserves her success, but hasn’t let it go to her head.

Setlist:

Darkside

Behind These Hazel Eyes

Since U Been Gone

You Love Me

Heavy In Your Arms (Florence + The Machine)

It Will Rain (Bruno Mars)

Einstein

Walkaway

I Know You Won’t (Carrie Underwood)

Don’t You Wanna Stay (w/ Jason Aldean projection)

I Forgive You

Already Gone

Still Won’t Know What It’s Like

Breakaway

Mr Know It All

Miss Independent

Never Again

Because Of You

Stronger

My Life Would Suck Without You

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Special thanks to Tom Owen for shooting this show. Check out his work at TomOwenPhotography.com.

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