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- Review: Tracy Chapman intimate, relevant at Michigan Theater show – By Roger LeLievre, AnnArbor.com, August 11, 2009
You might say Tracy Chapman and I got off on the wrong foot. Her late 1980s breakout “Fast Car” was horribly overplayed on the radio, and a spot-on “Saturday Night Live” parody at the time cemented her firmly in my mind as nothing but a one-hit wonder.
Luckily, I was wrong, otherwise she would not have been in town Tuesday night for a terrific performance at the Michigan Theater.
Chapman really opened doors, especially on the radio, for singer-songwriters. She was a trailblazer, and even though her recent songs haven’t been chart-toppers, that didn’t seem to matter one bit to the devoted fans at what looked to be a nearly sold-out show. Even the new material was enthusistically received.
Starting off with the early tune “Baby Can I Hold You,” Chapman — accompanied by a three-piece, nicely understated band — played most of her hits plus songs from the new CD, “Our Bright Future.” She also included a highly appropriate cover, “Feel Like a Number,” by Ann Arbor’s own Bob Seger.
Listening to two of Chapman’s biggest hits, both from her 1988 debut CD, I was struck by how little has changed in 21 years. With hard times all around, there are still plenty of people desperate to escape dead-end lives, the theme of “Fast Car.” And in “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution,” the lyrics “Poor people are gonna rise up” seemed to really resonate with the crowd.
Other song highlights were the percussion-driven, audience-pleasing “You’re the One,” the bouncy “Save Us All” (a song about how we “sometimes need to be saved from the people who think they need to save us”) and the bluesy “I Did It All,” both from the new CD. Her rendition of the early hit “Give Me One Reason” came complete with a rock/blues ending.
Tuesday’s show served as a reminder that, while she may not be cranking out hits, Chapman remains an artist in her prime, relevant and with plenty yet to say.
Maybe it was just where I was sitting (all the way to the back of the room, by the ushers), but the sound was so perfect every lyric was crystal clear. At times, if I closed my eyes, it felt as if I were wearing headphones. It was as intimate a show as I think is possible in such a large room, and hats off to the sound guys for helping make it so.
An encore, after consultation with the audience, included the thought-provoking “Change” and a surprise, high-octane version of “Proud Mary.” About the last thing I expected to be doing at a Tracy Chapman concert was dancing out of the theater, but I wasn’t the only one. It made me glad my early-on dismissal of Chapman’s talents was only temporary.
Roger LeLievre is a free-lance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com.