It’s been two and a half years since Sara Bareilles released her last fantastic record, Kaleidoscope Heart. Now she’s got a great new single, “Brave,” and is challenging herself to be just that by touring solo. The “Brave Enough Tour” challenges Sara to play not only alone on stage, but without the support of an opening act. This week it was San Francisco’s turn to get up close and personal with Miss Bareilles at a sold-out, standing-room-only show at Slim’s on Monday night. And what a treat it was, as usual…
Before the show even began, Sara’s eyes fell on a few kids in the audience. She made some comment about them playing a game with her, and something to the effect of bad words not counting. She then told the audience that playing in San Francisco makes her nervous, like she has to “pee every 30 seconds” like she has a urinary tract infection, adding “San Francisco, you make me feel like I have one!” Fortunately, perhaps for everyone, she began “Love on the Rocks” and changed the subject…though not for good. After a little treat of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets,” Sara told the crowd they were “precious,” explaining that the original plan had been to have a seated show, but that she “wanted to fit all of you,” and “we did it – we sold it out!” Alas, standing room only.
After going into detail of her new favorite word (“smattering”) and how she catches herself using it a lot, Bareilles suggested we make a drinking game of it, and indeed we did. Several times throughout the night, she’d say it and we’d yell “DRINK!” to her. Whiskey in hand, she’d happily oblige. A brilliant acoustic version of “Uncharted” followed, and then Sara offered a caption to someone taking her picture. She loves to pose for “portraits” and then provide a caption, she insisted. “I’m best when I’m a little mad…” and then she chastised herself aloud, saying something about “verbal diarrhea trickling off the edge.” Again, mercifully, she gave the crowd a break from chuckling at her expense with a great singalong version of her hit “Love Song.”
When someone in the crowd shouted up to her that it was his birthday, she quipped, “you know we’ve all had one!” without missing a beat. Eventually, she prodded him to “fast forward to the point… whatever the fuck it is you want,” and as is to be expected with that sort of language coming from a seemingly pretty and proper girl, the audience was cracking up. The request was for her to sing “Bluebird,” and while Sara obliged, she did add the condition that “if it starts going really poorly, I’m gonna bail in the middle.” It didn’t. “That’s sort of it!” she said as she finished. “We just had a fuckin’ moment, guys!” After a big sigh, she told herself, “shake it off, Bareilles!” which reminded her to ask who in the crowd was still mispronouncing her name. She correctly pronounced it (“BUH-rel-iss”) but repeated the wrong ones for us to hear: “Buh-rill-iss,” “Barry-Ellis” (I get that one a lot), and even “barrel-raisin,” which she said had become a joke among herself and the fans after a women introduced her as “Sara Bray-zah-lin!” once. (“Those letters aren’t even in my name!!”)
After joking that she was recording this particular tour on this night in this venue, she admitted that it was the “worst joke I’ve ever pulled. I’m not.” But made up for it by performing a song she did for the first time on her last DVD, a San Francisco favorite, “(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay,” which is a special treat, whether live or the recorded version from the DVD. Nobody does a cover quite like Sara: she makes little changes to every song she does so that they’re all special, and she’s incredibly talented musically, so this is (for me, at least) the very best thing about seeing her live. When the crowd tried to whistle through the song with her, she said, “sorta, yeah!”
Finally abandoning her piano for other instruments, Bareilles told the crowd “this is what I look like standing up,” adding that she was “so close I could kick you in the teeth” and then excitedly discovering, “you guys, there’s like dudes here!” She was very happy, explaining that in her earliest days as a musician “there was almost exclusively women. A lot of lesbians. I still got it! They still come out in droves. And I love it. I’m excited to see guys, though…” Right on cue, one of the ladies in the crowd shouted back, “we weren’t enough for you, Sara?” Indeed they are, the singer insisted, calling them her “first and only,” and adding that “we have something they can’t take away from us… vaginas!” After this comment, Bareilles shook her head and chastised herself for her comments about UTIs and vaginas, saying that apparently vaginas were the theme tonight and reminding herself “my parents are here!”
“This song needs clappers in the chorus, and I’m busy doing other shit. You got this, San Francisco? Not yet, you asshole!” The song, “Let the Rain,” sounded fantastic with the frenetic clapping from all over the crowded room and Sara’s lovely voice. “Thank you!” she said when it concluded. “I like my shoes too. Can you all see this shit?” Someone suggested that she take them off, and the quick-wit replied that there is “nothing sexier than a barefoot woman.” Somehow, the word “smattering” was uttered, and the whole room urged Sara to “Drink!” As she obliged, she insisted that she could see every face in the room, even the ones all the way in the back. The next song, she said, hasn’t been recorded anywhere. Why? Because she wants it “only to exist in front of you.” Song-writing is sacred to Bareilles, she explained, and this one was about her audience. The song, “I Just Want You,” was special because it won’t be likely found on any upcoming albums.
After checking in on the crowd, Sara played a great electric guitar for “Come Round Soon,” and then someone asked her what she’d like to drink. “I’ve been yelled at for taking drinks from strangers,” she declined politely, adding that her “tour manager will come swipe it out of your hand. She is aggressive…that’s why I like her! What are you drinking?” Explaining a little about her song-writing process, Sara indicated that she almost always writes her music before lyrics, which is a question she says she’s asked a lot. Once, though, she was on a plane crying (something else that apparently happens a lot), and she wrote lyrics about her freshman year at UCLA (which I feel obligated to tell you, as a Cal alum, that my phone autocorrected to “iCal”). She described the year as euphoric with freedom, and how she’d felt boundless at the time, which she called “magical to be in. The point is that we can always stay in that dream state. Anything’s possible. We just have to work harder now to stay there.” The song, “Once Upon Another Time,” definitely struck a chord with me after having heard her introduction. Just about the time I noticed that you could practically hear a pin drop in the venue, I heard a rude girl near the back of the bar say, “sorry about your life!” Oops.
Sara apologized for the song being “a little depressing,” and the crowd answered with many requests for the next song. She inadvertently mocked some of them with her tone, and then quickly apologized, insisting she wasn’t intending to make fun of any of us. The next song was a “brand brand brand brand new song,” for the Brave Enough tour. The tour is called that, Bareilles explained, because she found herself on Pinterest “for random shit,” and all the girls had comments about wishing they were brave enough to wear this or cut their hair like that, and Sara wishes they could find their inner brave girl. “Cut your hair. See what happens.” The solo tour is, she admitted, the “scariest thing I could possibly imagine.” But she thanked the room for their support, saying “every night feels like a giant trust fall. I’m so grateful. Gratitude!!” Before beginning her new single Brave, Bareilles mentioned her upcoming album, The Blessed Unrest, urging us to pre-order it. The song, she explained, was written in support of a gay friend who’s “struggling with identity as an adult and coming out.” Sara was, in her own words, “inspired by watching her face her fears.” I’d heard the song a few times before (and already own it), but after hearing her story, the song took a whole new level for me.
Huge hit “King of Anything” came next, followed by the equally successful (and gorgeous) “Gravity,” which never ever ever gets old, no matter how many times you play it (again, live or on the record). After a quick “thank you, goodnight, peace and love!” Sara departed for a moment. On her return, she explained that she’s always nervous for Bay Area shows because they “feel like home.” With so many of her friends and family in the crowd, she was exceptionally grateful. The first song of her encore was “a brand new song off the new one. You’re not gonna know it yet, so you’re just gonna have to sit there.” Before beginning said song, Bareilles explained that she’d gone through what she called “profound changes,” explaining that she is a recent transplant to New York City, and that she “had to go through some dark places in LA to get there, and this was back in December.” The song, “December,” was a bit sad but the sort of thing to which most of us can relate, and that’s just one of the many things Sara is so good at: putting words together in a way that we wish we’d done, and then putting it to pretty music and singing the shit out of it.
After giving props to her crew and the people at Slin’s, Sara again thanked everyone for coming out, saying “love you lots and lots,” and that she couldn’t wait to come back on tour again in the fall. The final song of the night was the kind of treat I mentioned earlier: a cover like only Sara can do. This time, it was a phenomenal version of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and I’d like to own it if she ever records it. It was beautiful. Sara (and her cover songs) rarely disappoints. I’ll be looking forward to The Blessed Unrest in July, and the next tour in the fall!