Dear Ms. Clarkson,
After finally getting a chance to attend one of your concerts last night at the Family Arena in St. Charles, I finally understand why I think you're such a fantastic pop songstress and performer. From the first slow-burning, disco-infused chorus of "All I Ever Wanted," your voice held the sparse but appreciative Halloween night audience in a state of hypnotic wonder at how such an everyday, girl next door could somehow possess the ability to shake the arena rafters with such seeming ease.
However, the thing that I couldn't figure out from the get-go was this: Why do you need a dozen people in your band and such a ridiculously elaborate stage set, when your voice is so capable of wowing an audience all by itself? The Def Leppard style, reverse reverb and drum intro of mega-hit "I Do Not Hook Up" was really cool, but when the song kicked in, the mix was impossibly cluttered at times. The low end rumble of the bass and drums were drowning in a sea of guitar soup and backing track schmootz.
This is not to say that your band didn't have fine musicians -- just that by the time you launched into "Impossible," from your latest album, All I Ever Wanted, I started to feel like all of the tough grit and focused rock band feel of that record was being lost in its translation. To what? Well, I really hate to even say it but -- a much more American Idol-meets-Vegas extravaganza/high school musical vibe that honestly took away more energy than it generated.
Luckily, you were able to build in some intimate moments and unexpected song choices that really saved the show. The mash-up of the little known Alanis Morissette gem "That I Would Be Good" with Kings of Leon's super-hit "Use Somebody" showed off just how engaging and irresistible your raspy croon can be when most of the bells and whistles are stripped away. You proved this again later in the set, on a sultry version of the Black Keys' "Lies," a slow-swaying, smoky nightclub jazz take on the Patsy Cline classic "Walking After Midnight" and a stirring acoustic rendition of your own tune "Behind These Hazel Eyes."
The moments where the full band did shine were these more stripped down songs - which made me long to see you in a small theater with a minimal set, booming sound and a five- or six-piece band. The bouncy, Phil Spector-infused doo-wop of "I Want You" fit this bill, along with the dancefloor pulse and heavy backbeat of "Walk Away." (A song which, by the way, my friend and I agreed sounds a lot like Cameo's "Word Up" -- in a very good way.)
What I'm saying is that the most genuine moments of the night were when the spotlight was on you and your super-charged, soulful pipes. Add to that the simple colloquial charm of your stage banter between songs, and it's easy to see why so many people love you. It's just that in the more intimate, bluesy and stripped down moments, it was easy to see that you were having fun -- and that translated into some seriously moving performance highlights.
The added bonus of the Halloween breakdown at the end of the show was also hilarious. We completely lost it upon seeing you dressed as Stewie from Family Guy while the rest of your band (in full costume as well) and your crew dressed as bananas broke into an impromptu dance party to party track "It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time." Tack on a spooky, synth-laden and up-tempo version of The White Stripes' "7 Nation Army" and the hard-driving show ender "My Life Would Suck Without You" and it's hard to see how anyone could have walked away last night saying that they didn't have a good time.
It's clear to me, though, that you should be putting on the show that you want to put on. The fans that you have love you, your spectacular voice and charismatic charm -- not the massive banks of moving LED lights or the stage with three giant ramps or the somewhat bloated, disconnected band. Unfortunately though, as long as you keep one foot in the sticky soil of American Idol, you'll never truly "breakaway."
Setlist: All I Ever Wanted Miss Independent I Do Not Hook Up Impossible That I Would Be Good/Use Somebody (Alanis Morissette/Kings of Leon cover) Breakaway If I Can't Have You Never Again Lies (Black Keys cover) Walking After Midnight (Patsy Cline cover) Behind These Hazel Eyes (acoustic) I Want You Ready Because of You Walk Away Since U Been Gone
Encore: Sober Already Gone 7 Nation Army (White Stripes cover) My Life Would Suck Without You