Theater of the Clouds, Portland OR
October 17, 2005
Sheryl Crow is one of those artists we’ve really liked since her first album. We’re not members of the fan club, nor do we haunt the website’s message boards, but we like her music. Until Monday night, however, we’d never managed to see her perform live.
Crow’s new album, “Wildflower,” is somewhat lighter fare than her previous efforts, and we had read that she was experimenting with a new kind of sound. She said she’d be hitting the road for a limited number of shows in select cities with not only her band but a small string section. We assumed that Portland wouldn’t be on that tour, and thought no more about it. When we returned from Europe last month, however, I happened to notice that she was coming through Portland on this mini-tour, so we scooped up a couple of tickets. We still don’t know how Portland got on the list, when most of the shows are in L.A. or New York, but I won’t dwell on looking that proverbial gift horse in the mouth.
The tickets said the show started at 8pm, and Chris had read something about there being no opening act and Crow typically takeing the stage right on time. We took our seats around 7:10 – we had allotted extra time in case we had to return to the car… I had stashed the digital camera in the bottom of my purse, relying on the strategically placed tampon near the top to deter any male purse-checker from wanting to dig deeper. It worked, which leaves me with mixed feelings – I’m glad I got the camera in (because, really, when you see these images you’ll see there’s no way I could make money with them anyway, so no harm is being done), but it makes me wonder what else people could sneak in? Best to not think about it much, methinks.
(As an aside, my smuggling reminded me of my “groupie” days in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when my friend Casey and I would sneak those old, skinny cameras – y’know, the ones that took the film that looked like two cylinders connected by a strip of plastic? – into concerts. We got very creative with how we’d hide them, and only got caught once. In our defense, we weren’t there to take pictures of the shows and sell them to rock magazines, we were there to get pictures of ourselves with the band members – which we did. I don’t open those photo albums often, as my hair and fashion choices back then still alarm me, but those were certainly some fun days. A friend of mine can’t get over the fact that my parents allowed me out of the house to attend rock concerts and hang out with the bands. I probably wouldn’t have allowed it, but I wasn’t the parent. Lucky for me.)
We had heard the Crow concert hadn’t sold out, but by the time the show started it seemed pretty full to us. One of the great things about Crow’s music is its wide-ranging appeal – we saw entire families there, and people ranging in age from under 10 to 60+. I’m so used to feeling old at concerts lately it was a refreshing change. This was one of those “sit-down” concerts, which I generally don’t like – I’m not a great dancer, nor do I relish the thought of the people behind me being subjected to my ill-conceived gyrations, but I also end up feeling cooped up in a seat when I really want to be moving (at least a little) to the music.
Crow took the stage at about 8:15, and performed a variety of old and new songs – the requisite singles were played, but so were some old gems from the first few albums. We were surprised that only two songs from the last album (“C’mon, C’mon”) made it into the set, but pleased at some of the other song choices. The set list was as follows:
Run Baby Run
Hard To Make a Stand
Good Is Good
Letter To God
The First Cut is the Deepest (Cat Stevens cover)
Live It Up
If It Makes You Happy
It Don't Hurt
Always On Your Side
Where Has All The Love Gone
All I Wanna Do
A Change (Would Do You Good)
Soak Up the Sun
Everyday is a Winding Road
Safe and Sound
Levon (Elton John cover)
We assumed the string section would only play on the new songs, since those songs were written with an orchestra in mind, but they played for most of the show – they weren’t onstage during the first encore, and occasionally they’d just clap along during a song where they weren’t taking an active role, but for the most part they added a wonderful flavor to older songs (I particularly liked the somber note they struck in “Safe and Sound”). The conductor was dressed in a red shirt, red tie, jeans, tennis shoes and a black tux jacket complete with black sequins on the tails. Very rock and roll, methinks.
She performed the show opener, "Run Baby Run," without an instrument of her own. Some artists who are used to playing an instrument look awkward when they don't have it - she looked completely natural. She performed a couple other songs that night sans instrument.
The mix was spot-on – we didn’t even end up wearing earplugs (though we always carry them, and it’s a rare concert that doesn’t require their use, and you kids out there should protect your ears, etc. etc.). Crow’s voice soared above everything – we were able to hear just what a talented live performer she is and still hear what a fabulous band she has with her. She switches instruments frequently, easily swapping an acoustic for an electric guitar or electric bass (my favorite). She even hops up onto the piano for a few numbers. Her band mates are equally ambidextrous, as the keyboardist doubles as a backup bassist and the bassist doubles as a backup guitarist. To anyone watching that for kind of thing, it’s clear that her standards are high and the end result benefits greatly from the attention to detail.
Here you can see the string section on the riser in the back to the left of the picture. The piano was in the middle of the riser, then the drummer and the keyboards. There was a big plastic-looking partition between the piano and the drummer - we wondered if, perhaps, he was prone to spitting on Sheryl when she tickled the ivories. He seemed harmless enough to us (and, frankly, looked a bit from our vantage point like Peter Jackson).
Crow’s songs are mostly wonderful, and her voice is great on her recordings – but nothing prepared me for the vocal acrobatics she did live – she leapt right into things with a very riffy (vocally speaking) rendition “Run Baby Run” and never let up. She’s a much more talented singer than I think her recordings show, which can either be good (so that her fans have something more to look forward to when they see her live) or bad (why on earth would you let that go unrecorded?!?). Either way, it was a surprise – a very pleasant one – to hear her variations on her own songs, and the additions of the bluesy elements which are clearly near and dear to her heart.
For "Strong Enough" and "Wildflower," she sat in the center of the stage with a spotlight on her. There was a fiddle solo during which the starry light show swirled behind her - it looked fabulous.
It’s apparently the trend to have a large-screen video display behind bands these days. I have nothing against this, and in general I thought the things being projected behind Crow’s band were fine and didn’t detract from what was happening onstage – with one notable exception. Many of you will remember the ending to the “Faith No More” video where that goldfish flops around, essentially drowning in the air, on a tabletop. I couldn’t ever watch that part of the video, even if “no fish were harmed during the making of,” yadda, yadda, yadda. I can’t see how it’s not harmful – that’d be like submerging a human being in water and letting them freak out about dying and then pulling them to air just before it’s too late. How is that not harmful?!? You might say the fish isn’t capable of the “freak out” level of understanding what’s going on, but then you’d have to explain why it will flop around in a tortured effort to inhale something that isn’t air. (And you’d have a very hard time convincing me, anyway, so don’t bother.)
At any rate, I hated the end of that video, and was dismayed when a similar image appeared above Crow’s head during “Safe and Sound.” It was interspersed with images of war (she wrote the song shortly after 9/11), but for the most part I looked at the bottom of the stage – or at my knees – until the montage was over. I get how the idea of the image fits into the overall message, but I still didn’t like seeing it. I’ll give her credit – at least in her version of this awful imagery the fish is shown being dropped back into water at the end, happily still alive.
After the first couple songs, Crow announced that this was only the second stop on this tour, and that the first night (in Seattle) had gone so well they weren't sure how things would go in Portland. She said, "But I wore a dress, so even if things go terribly, there are still the legs." She changed into jeans and a tanktop before the encores, but kept the super-high heels - I am amazed she can stand in heels that high for that long and not lose all feeling in her toes. Of course, she might lose all feeling in her toes - I have no idea.
Readers of this blog will no doubt remember that we’re cycling fans, and Lance Armstrong fans in particular. When most people who know we’re cycling fans found out that Armstrong and Crow were dating, they’d ask us, “So, do you like Sheryl Crow now, too?” We both found the question a little silly, as if the relationship would make us like a musician we would ordinarily not like. The truth is that we liked both independently long before they knew each other, and the relationship doesn’t change our feelings about either of them… Except that I’m not-so-secretly hoping her politics influence his.
He was, as we expected, at the show. She was very public earlier in the year about saying that since she’d been with him at the Tour de France that she wanted him to go on tour with her – and when he brought her a guitar (and a smooch) just before “All I Wanna Do,” she joked, “He’s the most expensive guitar tech I’ve ever had!” She called him up again onstage during “Everyday is a Winding Road” for a little dance number (very cute), and alluded to him several times. Apparently she used to dedicate the song “Strong Enough” to “all the single men in the audience,” and this time she said, “But now…” The audience laughed and cheered as she started the song. (I love that song, and I love people in love, but even I find the line, “Are you strong enough to be my man?” a little on the oh-my-god-that’s-too-perfect-to-be-real side now, given her fiancé’s last name...)
These two shots are during the encores (note the wardrobe change), and the one on the right is the little dance she shared with her man...
Many of Crow’s songs are co-written with a guy named Jeff Trott, who she announced is a Portlander (we had no idea). She also said much of “C’mon, C’mon” was recorded in Portland (where were we?!?). So between those tidbits and Lance’s Nike and medical connections here, it’s likely this celebrity couple will return. And we can’t wait.
For another take on it, here’s The Oregonian’s review.