In concert on August 11: Ann Arbor @ Michigan Theatre

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  • Review: Tracy Chapman intimate, relevant at Michigan Theater show – By Roger LeLievre,, 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


Venue: Michigan Theatre
Opening Act: Gaby Moreno

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Comments 1
  1. Tracy Chapman gave a beautiful and powerful performance to an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd in downtown Ann Arbor. The opening act was just ok and stood off to the side of the stage where it was hard for many of us to see her. The band didn’t do Tracy any favors, and in fact was a bit distracting with one member looking uncomfortably uncoordinated with the music, a stark contract to Ms. Chapman’s natural flow. I would have preferred to hear/see her without them. But in reality she could sing the phone book and make people happy.

    Since the first time I heard her voice shatter through the geometric shape designed, gum smacking, materialistic indulgence of the 80’s, I have longed to see her live. Few people do I bother going to see in a large venue (poor sound and the person appear the size of a thumbnail), so I was delighted when I heard the news that Ms. Chapman was adding US tour dates and would perform at the gorgeous and almost intimate Michigan Theatre. She came out strong and played with heart for nearly 2 hours straight. “Save Us All”, off her new album, went over especially well with this crowd. She performed a nice mix of old and new, the new being received almost as well as her classics which her fans will always want to hear. In the end the theatre was on its feet, singing along to the peoples request “Change”.

    I often wonder if this can be fun for artists to perform the same songs night after night, but Tracy certainly gave the impression she was enjoying herself. I’m sure it helps that she has quite a few songs to choose from after 20 year history of consistently putting out quality music. With many of Ms. Chapman’s songs being of a serious nature I anticipated a rather serious concert and while her performance definitely had substance and character she pleasantly surprised me with her carefree and welcoming personality that shone through between songs as she chatted comfortably with the crowd. By the comments overheard after the show it appears I am not alone in saying this was one of the best concerts I’ve had the benefit of attending.

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