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Judging from last week’s No. 1 bow on the Billboard 200, Sara Bareilles has quite a following. And while chart position says a lot about broad consumer appeal, she is much more than the typical studio musician who can sell albums.
Tuesday’s sold-out show at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles proved that the 30-year-old wasn’t part of the auto-tune generation as she skillfully ripped through several tracks off her third and latest album, “Kaleidoscope Heart.”
Opening with “Vegas” — from her first major-label release, 2007’s “Little Voice” — Bareilles fronted her four-piece band on piano (which she played standing up for the first four songs) through a string of perfect rhythmic, driving pop anthems. “Uncharted,” off “Kaleidoscope,” followed, and within 10 minutes any doubts of whether Bareilles could deliver live were put to rest.
“Gonna Get Over You,” which she dedicated to anyone “with a douchebag in their life,” delivered the night’s most playful performance as Bareilles relished the 1950s-era piano hook, belting out a track about a jerk with a glowing smile as she performed for her hometown crowd. “King of Anything,” the first single from “Kaleidoscope,” was equally terrific; it was evident Bareilles is comfortable having fun singing from her heart without inhibition.
Planting “Love Song” in the middle of the 14-song set that featured two encores proved smart as Bareilles’ new material had an infectious energy that one-upped the Grammy-nominated single, which would have been stale had she not injected a blues-inspired chorus toward the end of it.
Perhaps the night’s only weak spot came during an overstylized extended introduction to “Hold My Heart” that was reminiscent of a bad nature CD. But Bareilles quickly made up for it when she sat down at the piano and delivered with heart and compassion to spare.
Swapping piano for acoustic guitar, Bareilles noted her struggles with writer’s block in producing “Kaleidoscope” and revealed how being an “emotional basket case” helped snap her out of it — which led nicely into a revealing version of “Basket Case” that managed to improve on the studio track.
“Fairytales” cleared the band from the stage, and Bareilles delivered the feminist anthem with a natural confidence and elegance that most other singer-songwriters would fail to match.
Although comparisons could be made at times during her performance to Sinead O’Connor, Lily Allen and Michelle Branch, Bareilles can’t be pigeonholed or compared to anyone as her vocal range illustrates how versatile she is.
Shifting genres from perfect pop to blues and back, the night’s bravest and most powerful performance came at the end, when Bareilles returned to her roots and brilliantly sang fan favorite “Gravity” backed only by an a cappella group.
Los Angeles favorite Greg Laswell, whose ballad performance of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was truly inspired, opened after a brief John Mayer-meets-Rufus Wainwright set from Bareilles’ back-up singer Javier Dunn.
Venue: Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles (Tuesday, Sept. 28)
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