Sara Bareilles Plays Central Park (Concert Review)

I’ve been to quite a few concerts this summer and looking back, it’s funny to think about the differences in the crowds.

At Britney Spears, there were gay men in glittery eyeshadow and booty shorts all around me. At Jack’s Mannequin and Guster, the audience consisted of suburban white kids with backwards baseball caps, flip-flops and far too many popped collars. And at Sara Bareilles’ sold out show last night at Central Park’s outdoor Rumsey Playfield venue, the crowd was comprised entirely of hipsters in thrift store-purchased 500 Days of Summer-inspired floral print dresses and PBR-stained moccasins.

“How many of you are you listening to the show outside of the venue?” Sara yelled into her microphone. “This one’s for you!” she proclaimed as she started beating her tambourine and eased into an immaculate cover of Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man.”

The experience of a Sara Bareilles show is unlike any other concert I’ve been to. This is of course in large part due to the fact that Bareilles is a hypnotist of sorts who is able to manipulate the full spectrum of her audience’s emotions. While interacting with the crowd, she bursts with wit, sarcasm and dry humor. But when she breaks into song, her lyrics tell agonizing stories of loss and pain.

For example: One minute Sara will be singing the devastating “Breathe Again” (you know, the song that pretends its orchestration is not a carbon copy of the Titanic score), and the next minute she’ll be introducing what’s on deck by saying, “This song’s for those assholes who think they’re better than you. The ones who are like, ‘oh Sara, you drink too much,’ and you’re just like ‘FUCK YOU, MAN!’” Oh, and if you’re wondering what “this song” she’s referring to is, it’s “Basketcase” – a ballad with lyrics raw enough to be served as a tartar. Talk about emotional rollercoaster. Geesh.

But don’t get me wrong. Not all of Sara’s songs will have you reaching for razor blades. Throughout the duration of her 90-minute set, she sprinkled in animated upbeat tracks like the bouncy “Uncharted” the anthem-of-spontaneous-living, “Vegas,” and a funky cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.” She also played bluesy-reworked versions of “Come Round Soon” and “Bottle It Up,” which enhanced the songs’ jazz undertones and flared them into smoky nightclub tunes to puff your cigar to on the dimly lit set of your own personal noir film.

During her acapella performance of “Gravity,” Sara allowed her truly stunning voice to take center stage. Even the drunk dude behind me (who was later escorted away by security during “Love Song” for being too belligerent…seriously) found a way to stop falling on strangers and be moved by Sara’s hauntingly beautiful voice. Sara really has the type of major pipes that few other contemporary female singer/songwriters can rival.

As part of her encore, Sara played a new track by the title, “Beautiful Girl.” Inspired by the tough experiences that some younger girls in her family are currently facing (as well as her own former issues), the song found the chanteuse plucking away at her ukulele with Jason Mraz-ish fervor.

While the message of “Beautiful Girl” is very much on par with the theme of self-empowerment that’s taken over the charts recently (i.e. P!nk’s “Fuckin’ Perfect” and Selena Gomez’ “Who Says”), its lyrics make “Firework” fizzle out and completely abort “Born This Way.”

“So before you trade in your summer skin for those high heel shoes to make him want to be with you, let me remind you one more time that just maybe you’re beautiful, but you can’t see / So why don’t you just trust me they’ll see it too, you beautiful girl, you?” Sara gorgeously sang. Could a new album already be in the works?

To close the show, Sara played “Let The Rain,” my personal favorite track off of her #1 album, last fall’s Kaleidoscope Heart. If you haven’t heard this song, open the iTunes store and buy it right now. Seriously. If you don’t like it, then I think you and I should see other people.

And if you can, be sure to catch Sara on the remainder of her fall tour, now through the end of October. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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