What a night that was. Once again I’m at a loss for words, so I’m going to do my best to express my feelings… with words. Perhaps a bit of history first.
I ♥ Sara F*ckin’ Bareilles. I’ve been listening to her since 2007, ever since she appeared in that commercial for Rhapsody. You know, the one with her playing the piano in some dude’s apartment. Hey, who’s the cute girl playing the piano? She sounds good too! And that was that. Her music filled up many an hour in college; Little Voice became part of the sound of my first summer at school, while Kaleidoscope Heart filled up my last fall there. I could listen to this on repeat for a long time (and I have, several times.) Her latest EP Once Upon Another Time was the sound of the end of my summer last year as I pulled myself out of depression. It’s so easy for me to get lost in her voice. I’m not an expert on singers or what makes someone a “good” vocalist, but she has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. Even live, she doesn’t miss a note and to me it’s truly impressive, but I’ll get to that soon enough.
As I got more and more into Sara during my senior year of college, I found her live album from The Fillmore in San Francisco and gave it a spin. Once again, she was pitch perfect and just overflowing with energy and good vibes. As the year went on, I began to seriously look for career options in California and the Bay Area. After my first (and only) job interview out there, I couldn’t stop myself from dreaming of San Francisco. That’s when I finally noticed her fantastic cover of Otis Redding’s classic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” on that album, and I credit that discovery with being the point where I realized that that’s where I was going to be headed with my life.
When I finally moved to California in August of 2011, Sara became a regular part of my west coast themed playlists along with other favorites like Gold Motel and Florence + the Machine. In December of that year, she did a show at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. For reasons I can’t remember, I decided not to go. Since the end of that month was awesome anyway, I didn’t give it a second thought. That is, until this past March when she announced an intimate solo tour. The Brave Enough Tour would feature Sara and no one else. No band, no opening acts. Just a ridiculously talented woman and a piano (and a couple guitars, a ukelele and a harmonium). I immediately marked my calendar for the exact minute tickets went on sale. That morning, the first day in my new apartment, I woke up, went on her website and snagged my ticket before they sold out. The whole tour sold out in three minutes.
When the day of the show finally arrived on Monday, I took off from work and headed to San Francisco early in the morning. (Sound familiar?) Like Andrew McMahon’s show in February, this venue, Slim’s, was small with an open floor for a general admission audience. I got my place in line at noon and waited for seven hours by the doors. I sat/stood/crouched/leaned there on the sidewalk next to the tour bus hoping for an early appearance by the lovely Ms. Bareilles, but none was forthcoming. In fact, no other fans even showed up until around 3pm, so I guess I didn’t need to get there so early. It was worth it anyway; the weather was sunny and cool, a beautiful spring day in San Francisco and the people watching was first rate. There is also a pizza place two doors down from Slim’s and I went there thrice over the course of my wait. Once the fans began to arrive and queue up, the time passed more quickly as we struck up conversations and stood around by the door. Eventually the gates opened and we poured up toward the stage.
This was the first show I have been to where I was literally touching the stage. There was no barrier, just the edge and its glorious rugs. The piano was probably two feet away and I was right in front of Sara’s acoustic guitar setup. It was going to be a fantastic show.
Sara Bareilles is awesome. She came out, sat down at the piano with a drink and, before playing her first song, began chatting with the crowd. Also, she is hilarious. I wish I had recorded the between-song banter because it was all absolute gold. One of the first things she said was along the lines of how San Francisco, being basically her hometown, always makes her excited and nervous and feel like she has to pee, kind of like someone with a UTI. San Francisco makes her feel like she has a UTI. You’re welcome for the compliment, San Francisco. She swears like a sailor, and didn’t hesitate to jokingly mock those in the audience who called attention to themselves during the breaks. It was amazing. The half of the show that wasn’t music was pure comedy. I really hope some of this stuff ends up on YouTube, especially the audience drinking game that called her out every time she used the word “smattering.”
(Or maybe it wasn’t that funny and you had to be there. Who knows, but I loved it.)
The music was something else entirely. Unaccompanied by any band mates, it was up to Sara to deliver a full performance by herself and boy did she. Let me just say, she knows how to rock a piano and those pipes can belt a tune. I’m used to live vocals being less polished than studio recordings, but for this show I couldn’t hear a difference. She was that good. She started off with “Love on the Rocks,” which basically melted my face all the way from beyond the doors when I heard it during soundcheck. Like the start of any show seeing a favorite band/performer for the first time, I was literally shaking with excitement the moment she began to play. Through the bridge of the song, she skillfully segued into a verse of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” before combining the two songs at the end. She even blended the lyrics too, leading to the fantastic line “Bennie smokes rocks.”
After a lovely solo arrangement of “Uncharted,” the woman right next to me me started talking with Sara. They just straight up had a conversation between songs. I’d never seen a performer who would oblige the audience like that, but that’s the kind of show this was going to be. This woman requested the song “Bluebird,” and Sara actually played it too, though she disclaimed that since she was out of practice she would bail if it went poorly. It did not go all that badly (for the most part), and I could tell it absolutely made that woman’s night.
Being so close to the edge of the stage, I got a peek at the setlist for the night. A certain San Francisco themed song toward the end of the list caught my eye, but it was still too early for it to be played… or was it? I don’t remember the exact conversation, but Sara mentioned how her last live album was filmed in San Francisco and that they were filming one here too! Just kidding! The audience reaction to her little trick was priceless and I think she actually felt bad for a second there, so to make it up she sang us this song, which just happened to be featured on that first live album. I wasn’t expecting it so soon, but I managed to whip out my camera just in time for the start.
I can’t even tell you how much I loved this. The whistling part and Sara’s reaction to the crowd made it so much more memorable.
Once finished with that beautiful rendition, she stood up and came over to the guitar rig in front of me to play “Let The Rain” on the six-string. She remarked that we could see her now that she was out from behind the piano and also that we in the front should be afraid of getting accidentally kicked in the face… which led to a little quipping between me and her about whether or not I have a good dentist. (She thought I was bluffing when I said yes. She was correct!) I’m always uncomfortable in the spotlight like that, though having the attention of someone like her made me happy. (Sort of related aside: she had pretty awesome shoes)
The song that followed was an absolutely lovely piece on the ukelele called “I Just Want You,” a song Sara noted is on no album and never will be. I should have taken another video because I remember being enchanted by the simple melody and lyrics. I’ll have to find a bootleg for myself so I don’t forget it.
Having sung to us on the right side of the stage for a few songs, she wandered over to the other side, the dark side, and grabbed her electric guitar. She began playing a simple bluesy chord progression, faced away from the audience. I didn’t recognize the song, nor had I ever seen Sara play anything like this before. As it turns out, it was a completely new version of the song “Come Round Soon,” done in a more subtle, darker tone. I prefer her at the keys, but this arrangement took me aback. It was different and I quite enjoyed it.
However, it was followed by easily one of the best moments of the concert. Putting the guitar down, Sara pulled up her harmonium and went into a story. She talked about the feeling of going to college, how one can feel that their life is completely free and that anything can happen. She mentioned how after college is finished it often seems like there’s a set path and options are limited, but we are the only ones who can take charge of our own future and we can do so with the right attitude and mindset. I’ve felt trapped quite a lot in the last couple months and her words really hit me. She went on to say that in her songwriting process, she always always writes music before lyrics, but this song, spurred by the feelings described in her story, was written the other way. The song was “Once Upon Another Time,” one of my favorites from her fantastic EP of the same name. The first half of the song she sang a capella; there was not a sound coming from the audience. It was like the world shrank until it disappeared and then it was just her singing to each of us individually, hanging on her every delicate note. I could focus on nothing else but her and the gorgeous sounds she produced. Soon, out of the void her harmonium opened up the space again and the world reappeared, growing louder and brighter before trailing off until it ended the way it began, completely silent. Five short minutes felt like a serene eternity. I won’t hear that song the same way again.
Something similar happened later in the show during a song from her forthcoming album The Blessed Unrest called “December.” While very jovial and witty for most of the show, she told a very serious story about how last year ended with some major changes in her life. She left behind her life in Los Angeles and moved to New York for very personal reasons. She wrote this song about her experiences dealing with all of the emotions and circumstances surrounding that time, at least that’s what I gathered. A beautiful piece on the piano, I was immediately drawn to the chords she played, but my attention was soon diverted by the lyrics. The end of last year was hard for me too and I was, to put it simply, moved. I’m not one to really get emotional in public (or at all, really), but I could feel my heart twisting with her words. The audience was once again silent, even more so than before. It was incredible.
I skipped a little bit in there. Between “Once Upon Another Time” and “December,” Sara played her more mainstream hits: the new single “Brave,” which I’m not too crazy about but I thought sounded really good stripped down, “King of Anything,” from Kaleidoscope Heart, which I now have a new found appreciation for, and her biggest hit “Gravity,” which everyone sang along to. She hopped off stage for a minute doing the whole encore thing (which really should just not be a tradition, by the way, no offense, howyadoin’) before coming back to play “December” as described. After that, she finished off her set with a terrific version of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and exited for the last time, I was still so blown away by the show that I didn’t even move away from the stage until I was told to by the crew. In the blissful delirium afterward, I managed to obtain one of Sara’s setlists, making up for my failure to get one at Andrew McMahon in February.
All of the excitement now over, I grabbed a cup of water at the bar and headed outside to wait. I had heard conflicting reports about whether Sara meets fans after shows or not, but I was prepared to wait as long as it took in case she did. About fifteen other fans felt the same way as I. It was another quiet ninety minutes on the cool San Francisco sidewalk in anticipation, but eventually she came out to the tour bus and stopped on the way to oblige her fans. I asked her if she would sign my Little Voice booklet and my setlist, and her tour manager took a picture of us together. I also gave her a hug and thanked her for being awesome, before I ran away down the street. I had to get to the BART station six blocks away before the last train left for the night. I wish I could have had more time to chat with her, alas it was late and everyone was ready to get going.
It’s amazing– in the last one-hundred days my life has been made twice by musical idols of mine. It was easily another one of the best nights of my life and I can’t wait see her again someday. For now though, it’s off to the piano. I have some fleeting inspiration that needs to be channeled.