Sara Bareilles Goes it Alone
April 29th 2013
If the title of Sara Bareilles’ Brave Enough tour were a question, the singer-songwriter has already proven herself only a few shows in. Clearly, she’s brave enough to tour alone, unaccompanied on stage by backup musicians or an opening band; traveling with only a small crew. She’s also not afraid to break a number of performance customs; going on early for a headliner at 8 p.m., turning GA rock clubs like the Phoenix Concert Theatre into intimate seated venues, and opening the show with her two biggest hits- ‘Uncharted’ and ‘Love Song’.
A playful tone is set early in the night as Sara tells us not to be fooled by the other instruments on stage; there isn’t going to be anyone accompanying her. “So don’t expect Josh Groban to come out, it’s not fucking happening!” Laughing, she hops from her piano bench to grab a glass of whiskey that’s been brought to the edge of the stage.
It’s clear that this isn’t a show, as in something to be watched and admired from afar. It’s an intimate evening, a conversation between friends. This, she makes apparent when she calls on volunteers from the audience, asking them to explain the story behind ‘Love Song’ to everyone else in the room. There is no rock star façade to be found here, as she stops a song to tune her ukulele, forgets her lyrics, and generally draws attention to her (adorable) geekiness. Her witty one-woman banter and “verbal diarrhea” easily fill the spaces between songs, weaving a seamless flow of entertainment.
Her voice, as effortless and equally real as her personality, stuns. During ‘Once Upon Another Time’ she actually renders a 500 capacity crowd completely silent with her a capella- something I thought impossible amongst often chatty, distracted, and apathetic Torontonians. As if her vocal talent weren’t enough, she also plays the piano, acoustic and electric guitar, ukelele, and harmonium. Even if they are, Sara jokingly points out, all variants of the same instrument.
Not wanting to play her new music until fans have had the chance to actually hear it first, only ‘Manhattan’ is debuted from her upcoming album (along with the first single, ‘Brave’). This tour is to showcase songs that don’t often get put on a set list. Including covers of ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of the Bay’, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, and a brilliant blues reconstruction of ‘Come Round Soon’.
On every stop of the tour, fans have been writing what they’re “Brave Enough” to do on postcards left at the merch booth. Tonight, a fan holds up a sign saying she’s brave enough to sing with Sara, so she’s invited on stage to perform ‘Fairy Tale’. While it could have been a complete disaster (even Sara admits this later), it actually turns out to be the highlight of the evening as the girl, Sarah Vanderzon, absolutely killed it.
Without getting too cheesy here; it’s easy to tell someone to be brave, or to just be themselves. It’s another thing to do it. Especially in front of hundreds of judging eyes night after night. Though Sara sings “I wanna see you be brave” in her new single, apparently she’s put herself up to the same challenge, and there’s no sign of failure so far.
Throughout history, regular women have been accused of witchcraft for not acting the way a lady should, for threatening society’s “natural order”. Seems appropriate then, that Magneta Lane has chosen the title Witchrock for their EP full of sexuality, independence, vengeance, and infidelity.
In a genre populated mostly by men, Magneta Lane stands apart by being entirely female run. Lexi Valentine, Nadia King, and French write their own songs, they sing, they play instruments, they rock. And if it weren’t unnerving enough to have a grouping of powerful females, they’ve gone and released four distinctly witchy songs. Let’s explore what behaviours might have actually gotten them sent to trial in the 1790s:
Adultery: ‘Leave the Light On’ admits it from the get-go, with “If I put my wandering eyes away and stay, would it ever really occur to you?” The idea of a sexually empowered female who won’t settle for a lackluster relationship is undoubtedly positive. However, many see a straying woman as “fallen”, or in some eras, an evil seductress.
The Single Woman: How many movies can you think of that feature an outcast woman who lives alone on the outskirts of town, amongst rumours of her being a witch, a murderer, a child-eater? Probably lots. Small minds can’t comprehend the sort of strength and independence that ‘Good For’ demonstrates; preferring to be alone than with an unworthy lover.
Vengeance: What’s witchier than an angry woman with something to prove? ‘Burn’ starts the album off with a distinctly evil (and kind of on-the-nose) refrain “maybe if I let him burn, maybe if I watch him die”. ‘Lucky’, a spiteful ex-girlfriend tune, ends the album on a perfectly simplistic note “he’s only with you, because he can’t be with me.”
While Lexi Valentine’s dark, acerbic voice is still very much the band’s signature sound, years between albums has left a marked difference. Her range is broader, more powerful, matured. Noticeably present is the addition of backup vocals and harmonies to round things out. While comparable to fellow witch-rockers The Black Belles, Valentine has also taken on tones of 90s rock vixens Alanis Morissette, Shirley Manson, and Fiona Apple.
The upgrade in production value on Witchrock is thanks in part to Finger Eleven’s Rick Jackett and James Black. Having joined the creative process as friends, rather than a moneymaking scheme, they’ve helped Magneta Lane put out the album that they want. Turns out, it’s also what old fans, and prospective new ones will want to hear.
The heart can ache in many ways; love, lust, longing, pain, regret. All of which are explored on Tegan and Sara’s aptly titled 7th major release, Heartthrob. Before you even play a note, take a glance at the track list; ‘Now I’m All Messed Up’, ‘I Was a Fool’, ‘How Come You Don’t Want Me?’, and ‘I Couldn’t Be Your Friend’. Honest, no-nonsense titles; an indication of the diary-like content that lies ahead.
Continuing with what Sainthood started in 2009, Heartthrob is heavily rooted in the 80s. This time, the twins have ditched the rock arrangements in favour of synthesized dance pop. Everything sounds light, twinkly, painted with a pink Glamour Shots glow. Even the album art resembles the iconic Girl Talk game. Though the sound may be generations away from say, So Jealous, rest assured that Tegan and Sara haven’t messed with their trademark vocals. Their usual tradeoffs, call and answer, and DNA-matched harmonies are all present.
‘Closer’, the popular first single, is a happy, lust filled tune, and a bit of an anomaly. That’s because Heartthrob mostly rests in the twins’ realm of expertise; the desperate, hollow, curl up in a ball on the couch depression that they’ve been so good at articulating on past efforts. Despair-drenched lyrics abound, like the refrain “go if you want, I can’t stop you” from ‘Now I’m All Messed Up’. Or “tell me why you couldn’t try, couldn’t try and keep me here.” (‘How Come You Don’t Want Me?’) Other songs, like ‘I Was a Fool’ and ‘Drove Me Wild’ are full of painful hindsight.
Before you jump to conclusions and write Tegan and Sara off as a couple of pathetic emo sad sacks, look a little further. There’s a lot of strength and hope to be found here too. Especially in ‘I’m Not Your Hero’, “Learning all I know now, losing all I did, I never used to feel like I’d be standing so far ahead.” Or ‘How Come You Don’t Want Me?’, “Some day soon, I won’t be the one who waits on you.” And, well, the titles ‘Goodbye, Goodbye’ and ‘I Couldn’t Be Your Friend’ are pretty self-explanatory.
I would never wish pain or unhappiness on either of these girls, but it’s clear that heartbreak is their creative fodder. They’re able to tap into the worst aspects of their relationships without becoming whiny or weak; which is a talent in itself. Out of the ten songs on the album, only two deal openly with love and lust. There’s the aforementioned ‘Closer’, and a sort of mushy romantic ode, ‘Love They Say’. While not a bad song, the latter is arguably the weakest on the album; perhaps because it strays so far from the twins’ familiar angst.
What it all comes down to is this; if you can get through Heartthrob without your heart throbbing at least once, you should a) check your pulse, b) congratulate yourself on living a charmed life, and/or c) be pitied for having never met (and subsequently lost) someone worth your while.