2013-03-03

Concert Review: Kelly Clarkson

This past Friday I had the opportunity to purchase discounted tickets to Kelly Clarkson's concert in "Dallas" (actually Grand Prairie), Texas. This was a benefit concert for a local educational non-profit, and thus was a little different from a typical Clarkson concert. Nonetheless, it was a good window into how Clarkson stands up as a music performer.

First, let me write a bit about the venue. The concert was held at Grand Prairie's Verizon Theater. Despite its big name and ample parking, the venue is much smaller than the big arena one might typically expect from a singer of Clarkson's repute. Capacity at the venue was much smaller than what a basketball stadium holds. For that reason, the concert had a significantly more intimate feeling than other big performances I've seen in the past. More importantly for music snobs like me, the Verizon Theater is a true theater, meaning the hall is designed with the preservation of acoustics in mind. The room has excellent acoustic properties, so the details of the instrumentation were perceptible despite the comparatively lower auditory volume. I cannot adequately describe to you how important this is with respect to improving concert quality. Music is best when it doesn't rattle the eardrums, when the audience can hear the finer details of what's going on, and when one can exchange a few words with one's fellow concert-goers. The Verizon Theater delivered a great concert experience, and I hope to attend more concerts at that venue.

The opening act was a local Dallas singer, who apparently had also competed on American Idol. His name eludes me because I found his music largely forgettable. Vocally, he drew heavily on an obvious Coldplay influence, which may be ironic given the fact that Coldplay draws heavily on their own set of influences. When this sort of thing happens in music, it makes for very generic - and in my opinion unpleasant - art. The songs had reasonably well-written melodies, but largely felt as though it could be any decent bar band in the city. And while I don't have any specific criticism for the artist, I did not particularly enjoy his set.

When Clarkson took the stage, I had high hopes. I have long been a fan of her work, despite it being more saccharine and generic than what I typically listen to. Her range is incredible, and she seems to sing effortlessly. All of this was true for Friday's concert as well. Her vocals were spot-on, never faltering for even an instant. I have seen many great vocalists in concert, and all of them have stumbled from time to time. It was impressive that Kelly Clarkson delivered what could easily be termed a flawless performance. Her banter with the crowd appealed mostly to the fact that we were all in Texas. Outside of Texas, I'm not sure it would have gone over as well as it did - but then, we were in Texas, so it was highly appropriate. She was cheerful, witty, and easy in front of the crowd.

On the negative end of the spectrum, nearly all of the songs the band played that night lacked energy. This is a problem that also exists on Clarkson's recordings, but it is less noticeable there, having been aptly corrected for with excellent production techniques. I was disappointed by the fact that the drummer in many cases was simply playing half notes on the bass drum and mid-toms, the rest of the "percussion" being delivered by electronic drums. This lack of real drums can explain at least 50% of the dearth in concert energy and is representative of an industry-wide trend. Robotic drums suck the soul out of concert performances, and I wish artists would stop employing this approach altogether.

The rest of the band consisted of two guitarists, a bassist, a keyboardist, and three back-up singers. With a band that large, it is hard to go wrong. Even so, the arrangements struck me as being problematically simplistic. Why employ an eight-piece band if all anyone is doing is playing chords? Bands that large demand better arrangements. It could be that the complex arrangements were there, and I just couldn't hear them. The stage mix heavily favored Clarkson's voice, of course, but was skewed toward the middle of the sonic spectrum, making the whole concert sound a bit like it was coming out of a telephone receiver. This was disappointing, considering the quality of the room's acoustics. Due to the limited sonic range, many of the instruments overlapped and stepped on each other. There was not adequate sonic space for each instrument to be heard on an individual basis. This fact, too, could have contributed to the lack of energy.

Of course, Kelly Clarkson is to blame for none of these acoustic shortcomings. Her performance was incredible. Considering all of the above, I would rate the concert in the 5-6 out of 10 range. It was a worthwhile evening, but left me with a little something to be desired.