Candidly Concerting #5: A Love Song to Sara Bareilles

Candidly Concerting #5: A Love Song to Sara Bareilles

You gave me a language to dwell in — a gift so perfect, it seems my own invention. I have been thinking your spoken and written thoughts so long, I believed they were mine. I have been seeing the world through your eyes so long, I believed that clear, clear view was my own.

“James Baldwin’s Eulogy” by Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations

I’m just going to come out and say it: I cried. Multiple, big, crocodile tears at multiple, big, crocodile moments. Seeing Sara Bareilles live — let alone Sara Bareilles at a sold out Madison Square Garden — was a dream I had been harboring in my heart since early 2008. And yet, when she walked out on stage, I almost missed her because of the lack of pomp she possessed. Striding out confidently but without fanfare in a red pantsuit, she moved to the piano to open with the chorus of “Orpheus,” the track whose lyrics gave her the title for her 2019 album Amidst the Chaos. Despite the fact that I had been slowly working my way into seeing a concert of her own portfolio for years — having seen her at the Hollywood Bowl during Little Mermaid Live and as the lead in Waitress on Broadway — nothing could have prepared me for this. The entire set lasted 2 hours and encompassed not only her newest album but key tracks and fan favorites from all albums (including What’s Inside, the pre-release for Waitress). Some highlights: (1) the soaring incorporation of “Satellite Call” in “No Such Thing”; (2) the absolute silence in the audience when she closed with “Gravity” and (3) the way she adored her band and opener, Emily King, to the point of showering them with praise and recognition during the set. Not only was she talented, she was kind. 

Which, in all honesty, only cements that my borderline infatuation with this artist has been justified since my mother took me to Best Buy in 2008 before my basketball awards dinner to pick up Little Voice based upon the fact that I liked her cameo in a television provider commercial where she sang the chorus of “Love Song.” We — we being the Sara Bareilles fan base — all know the one. But my mom took me all the same. I had been attending weekly voice lessons for three years at this point. We sat in the car outside Panera Bread in her Yukon listening to the album, “Love Song”‘s iconic Gm, C, F, Bb surrounding us. Track played to track. She turned to me, “You should take this for your next session with Ms. Parker.” 

Her voice floated through the speakers that day in 2008 and nestled her understanding deep into my skin, my lungs, my heart, to a point where she allowed me to echo its reverberations in a way that enunciated and empowered my very own self. In her eulogy for James Baldwin, Toni Morrison said that he gave her a voice. Sara — her first name feeling as comfortable as that of a dear friend — was my foremother for years, and continues to be. She knew the joys and absolute terrors of jumping into a world unknown (“Uncharted,” “Chasing the Sun,” “If I Dare”). She bolstered me with not just one move across an ocean but two. She knew heartbreak: the deep, despondent lows of unrequited love (“1000 times,” “One Sweet Love,” “Between The Lines”), the destructive realization that some relationships just don’t work out (“Manhattan”) and even the more cursed combination of the two when you love someone who you just can’t move beyond (“No Such Thing,” “Poetry By Dead Men,” “Morningside,” “Gravity”).  She also remarkably was there when I did move on from each of these heartbreaks (“Little Black Dress,” “Fire”). She embraced me in my quest to find independence and — dare I make the pun — bravery in my femininity (“Brave,” “Armor,” “Eden,” “Let the Rain”). She was there for each of my a cappella auditions (“Bluebird,” “Gonna Get Over You”) and my final performance (“Stay”). She heard me when I felt lost, depraved, unworthy, and yet desperate for a glimmer of hope (“She Used To Be Mine”). And one day, I will walk down the aisle to her voice (“I Choose U”) and sing my children to sleep with her music (“Everything Changes”). 

Yes, this is my Love Song to Sara Bareilles. And while it is not that Gm, C, F, Bb chord progression that sticks in everyone’s ear since that Comcast commercial way back in the early millennia, it is the best I have to offer: my words. Thank you, Sara, for a magic from that moment ’til now and what promises to continue. I’m just grateful — from the remainder of my thirteen year old heart — that I was able to witness the magic in person.

Candidly Concerting #4: When Astrid S. Stole The Show

Despite my charming habit of getting to concerts early enough to stand three rows back from center stage — meaning I stand in line for an hour prior — I usually hate the opening acts. Vehemently, aggressively hate. At best I tolerate them. When there are two opening acts, I become irritable and antsy. And while, yes, I occasionally walk away with a new song to listen to by an artist I would never have found on my own, I rarely become a converted fan.

When I bought tickets to see Zara Larsson feat. Astrid S., however, I knew it was going to be different.

While a decently solid fan of Larsson, I have been pushing Astrid S. onto unsuspecting friends for two years now. The Lauv remix of “Breathe” was a staple in my Summer 2017 playlist (a time when I was also avidly consuming Larsson’s So Good album), and her new music constantly makes the rotation for whatever I’m currently listening to. So, yes, I may have been a bit biased when I was approaching the concert. But there was no way to anticipate the difference in authenticity of the two artists who performed that night.

Astrid S. performed a small selection of her work, as openers usually do, but her energy levels were high and authentic (video above). The crowd fed into it with an increasing pulse and hunger. When she wasn’t singing or dancing around the stage, Astrid S. was enthusiastically screaming, “NEW YORK!!!” with pure glee at a sold out Irving Plaza. While she might not have been headlining, she might as well have been.

With a heavily warmed up crowd, Zara Larsson took the stage for a perfectly polished and highly orchestrated set, with back-up dancers and projections of wildlife scenery. In the end, after a genuine and entertaining set from Astrid S., Larsson’s vocals — while her runs were more impressive — could not overpower the fact that the rest of her production felt forced. There was nothing ad-libbed or personal about the performance, because that’s exactly what it was — performative.

I don’t like giving bad reviews, and it wasn’t that it was bad, it was just that one star shone brighter in the setting and the atmosphere of Irving Plaza. Larsson belonged in an arena with thousands of adoring fans, but in the smaller venue she felt out of place. Astrid S. fit the setting and the vibe like a glove. That being said, both are incredibly talented and I’m excited to see what the future holds for both of their careers, even if I hope that it takes them in two separate tour directions.

Candidly Concerting #3: lovelytheband

“Hey, Ma, I think this year the band made it.” Those were the last words that the frontman of lovelytheband, Mitchy Collins, managed to say before he turned his back on a cheering audience with a reddening face to wipe his eyes. His bandmates, Jordan Greenwald and Sam Price, both stepped away from their instruments and went to celebrate and comfort him. After all, they had just shared with the crowd that the sold out Irving Plaza in New York City in three days, a stage the members themselves had been to see Billboard greats like FallOut Boy, Ed Sheeran, and Macklemore. Now it was their turn.

I remember the first time I heard lovelytheband’s hit “broken” on the segment “Ear Poppin’ New Music” on SiriusXM’s Hits 1. I was driving to Ocean City, New Jersey with my mom, freshly returned from my first year in grad school in London and finding myself surprisingly at a loss with what to listen to on American radio while, as I like to call it, “driving with Wendy” thanks to my increasingly eclectic Spotify tastes. But if there’s one thing I can never resist, it’s the opportunity to hear new music. I did not, however, expect for my tastes to shift into high gear. I don’t even think the song ended before “broken” was added to my Spotify summer playlist. And when the album was released, it was added to my saved catalog.

It’s now been a year since that highway listen. The band has received decent notoriety, and well-deserved. Their sound is widely appealing, with an audience on Monday night’s concert ranging from families with musically woke middle schoolers to late thirties groups of music enthusiasts. Personally, I went alone, wanting to fully dance and geek out when they played “pity party” (I did) and nearly cry at the end of “maybe I’m afraid” (there were witnesses). And while the opening acts were decent (Jagwar Twin and Flora Cash), if at times muddy, there was no chance of anyone stealing lovelytheband’s thunder that weekday night at Irving Plaza. They owned that stage and fully earned the Live Nation backing that they’re receiving for their finding it hard to smile tour.

I am a certified, cemented, rock-solid fan.