Kelly Clarkson really can sing almost anything well.
In the course of her 100-minute set last night at sold-out Radio City Music Hall, she tackled Broadway with Barbra Streisand's version of “My Man” from “Funny Girl,” country with her Grammy-nominated Jason Aldean duet “Don't You Wanna Stay,” indie pop with her take on Florence and The Machine's “Heavy in Your Arms,” as well as '60s R&B with “I'd Rather Go Blind,” her tribute to the late Etta James. That doesn't even include her own big-tent brand of pop, ranging from the upbeat rock of “Since U Been Gone” to the folk-leaning “Breakaway” to the club-ready dance anthem “What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger),” her current single.
What ties the eclectic night together – besides her infectious enthusiasm (“I'm so excited!” she said several times during the night, adding, “I'm gonna be like that annoying cheerleader all night long!”) – is her incredible voice, made to sound that much more impressive by meticulous vocal arrangements.
On her pop songs, Clarkson uses her three backing singers well, having them both double her vocals and add harmony. The results are live versions more potent than the recorded ones, because she can vamp without losing any of the original melody. Add in three more voices from her five-member backing band – as they did in the metal-tinged ballad “Behind These Hazel Eyes” or in the lovely a capella opening of “Already Gone” – and it sounds like Clarkson is leading an army.
Of course, Clarkson is leading an army – the chorus of loyal fans who relate to her lyrics of self-esteem issues and relationships gone awry. Few pop stars would dream of giving Internet insults and their negative press a second thought. Clarkson catalogs them and projects them on a 25-foot screen, using them to open the show. The final two before she launched into her poignant dance anthem “Dark Side”? “FAT” and “FAILURE” – neither of which are true, but are, no doubt, hurtful nonetheless.
That Clarkson can transform that pain into something so beautiful and a concert so enjoyable shows that she is so much more than a great singer. She's a great artist.
SETLIST: Dark Side / Behind These Hazel Eyes / Since U Been Gone / Gone / You Love Me / Heavy in Your Arms / My Man / I'd Rather Go Blind / Medley: The Trouble With Love Is/Walk Away/How I Feel/I Want You / I Know You Won't / Don't You Wanna Stay / Let Me Down / I Forgive You / Already Gone / Breakaway / You Still Won't Know What It's Like / What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger) / My Life Would Suck Without You // ENCORE: Never Again / Because of You / Mr. Know It All / Miss Independent
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CELEBRITY SPOTTED: Reba
ON ETTA JAMES: “I love her,” said Clarkson, noting that she auditioned for “American Idol” with a version of “At Last.” “There's very few artists where you can hear their whole story in their voice.” She decided against covering “At Last,” because so many others do. She goes with her favorite from James, the wrenching “I'd Rather Go Blind,” which the band learned yesterday.
BEST REVAMPING: “Never Again,” from Clarkson's troubled third album “My December.” The gothic metal trappings have been stripped away, leaving a touching ballad that paired nicely with the powerhouse “Because of You.”