Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Kelly Clarkson has really come out of her shell. Since her win on the first season of American Idol nearly 15 years ago, she's established herself as one of the most powerful vocalists in the business. If you remember those first episodes of Idol, Clarkson was almost reticent every time the camera was around, but we could all see her star power anyway. On Sunday night at Gexa Energy Pavilion, though, Clarkson proved that she's grown into a full-fledged, bad-ass, independent woman.
It took a little time to assemble Clarkson’s massive stage set-up, complete with dozens of monitors stacked high into the air. When the monitors parted and Clarkson emerged, the cheers were almost deafening. This was clearly the high point of the evening. As Clarkson launched into the poppy, upbeat “Dance With Me” from her 2015 release Piece By Piece, it was clear that Dallas was in for a seriously impressive performance from their hometown girl.
The set was nicely balanced between Clarkson favorites like “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and a quick medley of “Because of You” and “Breakaway.” If you hadn’t paid much attention to the deep emotion in the lyrics of these tracks, Clarkson’s teary eyes were enough to convince you. She repeatedly blamed the tears on pregnancy hormones, but her connection to this music was evident.
During “Piece By Piece,” the title track from her new album, Clarkson stopped several times to catch her breath. And the audience was equally without air. When listening to the recorded version of this track — about Clarkson’s self-described “daddy issues," which stem from being abandoned by her father — it’s easy to get caught up in its upbeat melody and catchy chorus and miss the emotional nuance. But when it’s stripped down to just Clarkson and a piano up there — her eyes welled with tears, those vocals powerful and affecting — it’s hard to miss.
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That performance was the best of the evening, and only a heartless bastard could’ve avoided wiping away a few tears. "This is my hometown, this is the airport he left me at." Raw, emotional and wrenching doesn't even begin to cover it.
Throughout Clarkson’s tour, she’s taken fan requests and hosted a sort of “open mic night” at each date. In Dallas, we were treated to a performance of Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be” from Peyton McMahon, a young singer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It, surprisingly, surpassed the original, and it was beyond charming to see Clarkson support up-and-coming artists in this way. Still, it might have been even better as a duet.
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What Dallas didn’t get, though, was a unique cover, and that was a real disappointment. At other stops on the Piece By Piece tour, Clarkson has covered everything from Prince to Dolly Parton, but Dallas didn’t get that same treatment. Clarkson did close her set with a medley of her own, “Walk Away" and “Uptown Funk,” but she’s been doing that at most stops. Our high hopes for a performance of “Crazy” by Willie Nelson or “All My Exes Live in Texas” were quickly dashed as she stepped off the stage before her encore.
When she did return, in a fresh and fierce new rhinestone outfit, Clarkson was still entirely energized. Her incredibly talented back-up singers launched into a cover of Jessie J, Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande’s “Bang Bang,” and those women deserve some serious attention of their own. “They are so incredible. I don’t like playing with shitty people, so you’re not going to see any of that on my stage,” Clarkson said with a laugh. “My mother is so proud of my mouth tonight.”
Then came performances of “Miss Independent” and “Since U Been Gone,” two songs that should have been in the main setlist. It would have been great if Clarkson had saved a few deeper cuts or one of those damn covers for her clearly devoted fans.
But when Kelly Clarkson is belting “Since U Been Gone,” arguably the greatest pop song of the last 20 years, you can't be disappointed. Unless it's about the impending hike back to your car in the Gexa parking lot after a few beers.
Earlier in the night came another largely local group, Pentatonix. The a capella viral sensations first formed at the University of Texas at Arlington and made a name for themselves on YouTube via stunning harmonies and powerful arrangements of popular songs. Last night at Gexa, though, that formula seemed to fall a little flat. Pentatonix opened their set with Ariana Grande’s “Problem” and the audience happily clapped along, but the short set did nothing to showcase the group’s impressive collective vocal prowess.
Still, the hometown crowd was happy to see Pentatonix return to Dallas, and their voices were in tip-top shape last night. A medley of Michael Jackson hits was the highlight of the show, especially so close to the legendary pop star’s birthday, but the progressively more lackluster setlist, which included a few forgettable original tracks, really overshadowed those incredible vocals.