Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Live review: Sara Bareilles at the Islington Assembly Hall, Tuesday June 3rd 2014

Despite only having one big hit in the UK, back in 2008 with global smash Love Song, Californian singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles has built up a strong fanbase on these shores and had to add this second London show following huge demand for the first confirmed date at the admittedly cosy Islington Assembly Hall.

The curious thing about her continued British support is that her latest album, Grammy nominated The Blessed Unrest, has completely failed to take off here. Yet Sara joked "This is the second and final night of our world tour but we feel really good about it," implying that her British fanbase is second only to her huge US support network.

Whatever the reason Sara had to bring her shows out of the US, it was great to see the on form singer perfecting her craft. With comparisons to a long line of piano tinkering American songbirds including Fiona Apple, Sarah McLachlan and Vanessa Carlton, Sara has managed to carve out her own identity over the past decade and despite admitting her nerves and missing a few words in second song Love On The Rocks, she enthusiastically chatted to the crowd throughout the night.

Show opener Uncharted, a single from Sara’s second album Kaleidoscope Heart, was a beautiful if subdued opening while the aforementioned jazzy punch of Love On The Rocks lifted the atmosphere and a segue into Elton John’s Bennie And The Jets at the end was inspired.


As the third song up, Love Song appeared curiously early on in the show. Still a classic pop single about rebelling against record company demands, the crowd sang along with great gusto and joined in by clicking along to an acapella part midway through the performance.

The gorgeous Chasing The Sun surprisingly had large parts of the crowd joining in. An otherwise anonymous album track, it proved that all of Sara’s die-hard fans had turned up for this show with many knowing every word.

Things became slightly more downbeat with the performance of Hercules, a song which Sara says was written at a time of deep depression when she had ended a long term relationship, split with her band of 10 years and leaving her home of 14 years in Los Angeles and moving to New York City. December and Gravity continued the theme although Sara stressed that she was actually a generally happy person, despite what her lyrics might suggest. “I don’t think of myself as a depressed person!" exclaimed the troubadour.

Sara got a guitar out for the Jack Johnson-esque Beautiful Girl, one of two bonus tracks on the Japanese and US deluxe editions of The Blessed Unrest. Parking Lot, the other bonus track, which Sara says she doesn’t play much, was performed later.

A soulful cover of Otis Redding’s Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay got the crowd singing again and her clear but emotive voice was in perfect form and reaching some powerful notes by this stage of the show.

Jaunty and cheery new single I Choose You and toe-tapper King Of Anything, the radio hit that never was (unless you work in Debenhams where it’s played 10 times a day) came towards the end of the show with the crowd rhythmically clapping along.

Sara’s recent international hit Brave (though criminally only a mere top 50 ‘success’ in this country) was the announced final song. A positive anthem of being free to be who you want to be, it’s a great motivational anthem with a positive message and the crowd happily joined in on the chorus in an almost gospel-choir fashion.

Rapturous applause followed and the inevitable encore included the classy Come Round Soon where Sara came out with an electric guitar and showcased her best vocals of the night. She closed the show with another Elton cover, this time a beautiful rendition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Overall it was an impressive show and Sara was on top form, with the crowd eating out of the palms of her hands throughout. A strong mix of old and new material, and a healthy double nod to Elton John for good measure, the only strange thing was perhaps the order of the setlist and some of the curious inclusions.

No doubt Sara enjoys performing the two Japanese bonus tracks but it was clear that many of even the most loyal fans hadn’t heard the songs before. Perhaps Manhattan, Little Black Dress, City, Gonna Get Over You or Bottle It Up would have been better inclusions. But it’s a small quibble as both were interesting songs that Sara had personal reasons for performing.

The show proved that Sara deserves to be a much bigger star worldwide. The Blessed Unrest was nominated for Grammy Album of the Year for a reason; it’s one of the best releases of the last 12 months. Hopefully the next world tour will be far bigger than a two-show affair at a small London venue!

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