Near the end of Crystal Bowersox’s 90-minute concert Sunday night at the SeaGate Convention Centre there was the kind of singular moment that is so rare and pure it transcends art and becomes something more.
On stage with her backing band Monte Mar and a group of students from the Toledo School for the Arts serving as a choir, she was deep into a song from her soon-to-be-released new album. The studio version of “Fall Into Place” is a gentle pop song about appreciating what you have and letting things be, but Bowersox and the kids turned it into a soaring anthem that kept swelling and growing in power.
Finally the singer stepped back from the microphone, looked to her left where the students were singing and swaying, and she started testifying: “When I was a little girl, there was a voice in my head saying it’s going to be all right,” Bowersox half sang and half shouted over the music, repeating the line several times.
Clearly it was a spontaneous moment, one born from a long climb out of poverty in northwest Ohio, then off the streets of Chicago, and into a safe environment in front of about 800 people where she could do something largely unprecedented for any musician: Play a set heavy on new, unreleased music.
It took chutzpah to come on stage and for an hour play song after song from her second release, "All That For This," which won’t be available until March 26. Think about it, would Bruce Springsteen do that? Or Kelly Clarkson, for that matter? Perhaps it was because she was in her home town, or maybe since she is a graduate of the Toledo School for the Arts (the show served as a fund-raiser for the school), she decided to test-drive all 12 songs from the disc for an audience that had never heard them before.
She didn’t get around to “Holy Toledo” until the encore, never played “Farmer’s Daughter” the popular title cut from her first album, and didn’t pander to the audience with covers that she was playing in local bars until her run on American Idol in 2010. It was an approach that was courageous and perhaps a bit extreme in terms of the pacing of the show, but it was interesting.
Dressed in black leggings, a loose patterned blouse, and a black jacket and sipping from a glass of wine, the Elliston, Ohio, native took the stage and played the gentle “Home,” a new song that starts appropriately enough with the line “For 18 years I called this place home.”
Her sound is evolving from hard-strummed singer/songwriter rave-ups to a more sophisticated, supple approach that best serves her lyrics and remarkable voice, but that also keeps the energy level at a simmer rather than a full boil. For the jazzy “Movin’ On” she shed her acoustic guitar and appears more comfortable than in the past on stage without an instrument, dancing, and losing herself in the music.
An early highlight of the show was “Shine,” a powerful ballad with a repeating line — “This little light of mine will shine” — that seems to be about her 4-year-old son, Tony. As the song ended Bowersox teared up.
The SeaGate Convention Centre, which has all the ambiance of a giant high school gym, gave the show a weird vibe and for large chunks of a thoroughly entertaining concert much of the older crowd sat with arms crossed as if they were watching TV. Seriously, people, you couldn’t muster the energy to get out of your seats for “Holy Toledo” or the randy rocking new song “Til the Whiskey’s Gone”?
Bowersox didn’t seem to mind as she engaged in playful banter with audience members, brought her long-time friend and musical compatriot Frankie May of Toledo on stage to play bass, and generally enjoyed herself.
The surprise moment of the show was a sublime version of the much-covered Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah,” which she said she was performing for only the second time. Anyone who has watched American Idol or any other televised singing competition over the last few years has watched amateur singer after amateur singer butcher this complex piece of music.
Cohen’s song, most known by the late Jeff Buckley’s version, manages to convey both the sacred and sensual in one piece of music, and the juxtaposition of those conflicting emotions generally eludes most singers.
Bowersox absolutely killed it as she was accompanied by only piano. She embodied the song, giving it a cathartic quality that veered from the bedroom to the altar and back in a performance that shimmered with intensity. Anyone who heard it and realized what they were witnessing walked away a richer person.
Contact Rod Lockwood at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6159.