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 #1: LÉON feat. Morgan Saint at Irving Plaza

Candidly Concerting #1: LÉON feat. Morgan Saint at Irving Plaza

Last night, I attended Ones to Watch Presents: LÉON at Irving Plaza. I’ve been onto LÉON’s music since hearing “Surround Me” on The Bold Type in 2017 (yeah, I joined that band wagon), so I was quick on the Ticketmaster trigger when I found out she was doing a tour stop in New York City. I dragged my dear and yet non-fan friend Rebecca along with me to the Union Square venue, paid way too much for those requisite vodka soda, and pushed our way to three standing rows back from the barriers blockading the stage.

I was completely and unabashedly way to excited for this concert. LÉON’s sultry vocals and ballads that, in my opinion, can rival Adele any damn day of the week had been teasing me since I purchased the tickets on February 4th.

I was not, however, equally enthused in anticipation for seeing the opening act. Don’t get me wrong, I typically experience excitement with opening acts — the possibility of witnessing a star on the rise. But I had done my research and been put off by the striking appearance of Morgan Saint’s alt-pop rock (?) album covers and and the synth heavy sound.

I was wildly underestimating the power of a true performer.

While it was clear that Morgan Saint was the real deal from the first step on stage — undeniable from the GaGa command of the space and the swagger of a true musician (think Lorde) — it was the introduction and performance of the song “Glass Houses” that sold me. Morgan Saint started by asking the audience to raise their hands if they had ever had their heart broken. Then Morgan Saint said to keep our hands raised if we had ever broken our own heart. My right hand remained over my head until the first chord rang out.

If I told you I was broken, would you love me still?
Shattered hearts, crossed stars, never saw myself…

Won’t you love me now? F*cking love me now
It’s all broken, unspoken
Just breathe me in, taste me on your lips
You can let me go, if you need to let me go

“Glass Houses,” Morgan Saint
Take a listen to this stripped down version.

There’s something incredibly powerful when a performer strips their experience bare and connects with an audience on a level of raw emotion. I don’t think Rebecca noticed but “Glass Houses” drove me to be misty-eyed. It permeated my skin and made my blood hot with memory of my darkest times. I related to the lyrics on a level I would never have expected, because I had a realization I could never have grasped before. In efforts to move forward from the darkness that was my first six months of 2016, I had made every effort to absolve all of those who had removed themselves from my life under the pressure of the events. But I had not forgiven myself for being the force that opened that door, for being the driving force asking for unreasonable salvation from individuals who could not offer me that rescue. And that is now a mission that I have given myself to work on. In the aftermath of Morgan Saint’s performance, her entire discography has been added to my arsenal of songs to listen to.

Luckily, although a true balladeer, LÉON’s set was filled with infectious upbeats and crowd engagement. LÉON focused on providing grounded, relatable anecdotes about the hardships in love that drove her to these songs of romantic woes — see: “Body” or “Pink.” Her carefree dancing on stage only encouraged the audience to dance more daringly and sing more loudly, even to the point where LÉON could stop singing and the melody would carry throughout the packed venue. While it might seem like I am shortchanging LÉON as the main event by giving her less text space than her opener, there really are no words to convey the contagious joy that spread throughout Irving Plaza as soon as the lamps lit up the stage. It was a shame to watch her go, but to close it out with “Surround Me” and enjoy the moment of communion not only with her as an artist but with the whole crowd as a gathering was the icing on the cake to someone who found her with that very song.

The track that LÉON and her band performed during the feature photo.

LÉON, keep shining bright. Morgan Saint, I’m grateful.

On owning your voice

For me, singing sad songs often has a way of healing a situation. It gets the hurt out in the open into the light, out of the darkness.

– Reba McEntire

How could we explain that standing on a stage and speaking someone else’s words as if they are your own is less an act of bravery than a desperate lunge at mutual understanding?

– If We Were Villains, M. L. Rio

On my way home from the hospital in 2016, “She Used To Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles came on the satellite radio in my father’s car. This was a rarity — while I may love Bareilles, her backlist and broadway songs don’t generally make it onto mass consumer radio. I closed my eyes in the passenger seat and let the lyrics wash over me. I thought I was having my own personal experience when the lyrics came on, “Who learns how to toughen up when she’s bruised and gets used by a man who can’t love. And then she’ll get stuck,” but I was wrong. My father reached over and said — I’ll never forget this — that the song was playing just for me.

I had just come out of my first relationship and unfortunately it was wildly abusive. I was pushed into a wall. I was the target of thrown Christmas presents. I was told I couldn’t be a priority. And, as a result, I was broken and depressed.

Music has always been a catharsis for me, though. I responded to it quickly and innately at a young age. One of my earliest memories is singing and dancing to “Baby Baby” by Amy Grant in my garage to the audience of my parents. I progressed through the years to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera before finding my groove with Kelly Clarkson, Alexz Johnson, and my queen Sara Bareilles. While their voices allowed me to find my own musically, it was their words that allowed me to find myself wholly.

This is the first time I have ever posted publicly a clip of me singing something that matters to me. But I have this compulsion to do so. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in my head too much lately, feeling a bit incomplete. Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to my soul singers a bit too much on repeat. Maybe it’s because someone out there needs to know they are heard. Regardless, here it is.

“She Used To Be Mine,” while being incredibly moving, is essentially a song about regret — but I don’t use it that way. For me, this song is about being understood and having the gumption to move on with my life. It will always take me back to sitting shotgun in my father’s truck on January 24, 2016, feet on the dash, hair in a ponytail, salt streaks down my cheeks. It gave me solace and it gave me power.

Too long, didn’t read: Never let anyone take your voice away.