Kelly Clarkson Rocks Durham Performing Arts Center
January 31, 2012 marked the only date on Kelly Clarkson Stronger Tour where she performed in North Carolina. Luckily, it was nearly in our backyard — in downtown Durham.
The location was for the Clarkson concert was the three year old Durham Performing Arts Center — a theatre-like venue with two balcony level.
We were lucky enough to be on the ground level — just ten rows from the stage.
The opening act was Matt Nathanson, whom I hadn’t heard of, but turns out he’s had seven albums, with a few hits like “Come On Get Higher” and “Faster.” His hour set included a lot of selections from his latest album, Modern Love. The tracks were good, though Nathanson dancing and gyrations were a little strange and distacting.
Kelly had a cool stage setup, consisting of a shallow front stage area that had a semi-transparent curved screen behind it that could be quickly be raised and lowered. Behind it, there were several cylindrical risers where the drummer, keyboardist and backup singers had a little elevation above the stage.
The set started out with the lullaby-like intro from Stronger‘s “Dark Side,” while tabloid-like headlines were projected on the large curved screen a la the Mr. Know It All music video.
The dynamic verses versus choruses of “Dark Side” were a perfect opening song. Right away, it was obvious Kelly Clarkson’s voice was as strong as ever, and she was going to do justic to the studio tracks from Stronger and her past catalog.
Kelly then belted out energetic versions of “Behind These Hazel,” “Eyes Since U Been Gone” and “Gone,” all from her 2004 Breakaway album.
Despite having five albums to draw from, Clarkson found time in the set to do three covers — all of which rivaled, if not beat the originals: Florence + the Machine’s “Heavy in Your Arms,” fellow American Idol alum Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t” and Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity.”
The band did great arrangements for all three covers, especially for “Heavy in Your Arms,” where the semi-transparent screen was brought down, while Kelly sang in the middle of the audience and the drummer played the march-like beat on a single drum — really neat rendition that made me a fan of the song — Kelly’s version more so than the original.
Another cool arrangement was a medley that featured an abbreviated of a track from each of her five albums, on this final night of January included “The Trouble With Love Is,” “Walk Away,” “How I Feel” and “I Want You” — all good choices and a good variation of ballads and upbeat tunes.
For her hit duet with country singer Jason Aldean, “Don’t You Wanna Stay” they again employed the curved screen — this time projecting a larger-than-life Aldean, so that Clarkson and ALdean could do a virtual duet. I wonder if Jason Aldean has a larger-than-life Kelly Clarkson during his concert? But at either venue — no offense to Aldean, but Clarkson really carries the song and makes it the hit that it is.
Between songs, Kelly was very entertaining and interactive with the crowd, exuding her down-to-home manner that’s always been evident in most any interview she’s done.
The concert was weighted heavily to the latest Stronger album, with Breakaway a close second. The only downside to having five successful albums is the setlist is never going to be able to include every song.
The encore was as great as the rest of the concert, with starting with a piano and vocal only “Never Again,” making it a bit more sinister, but very enjoyable. Clarkson even admitted the minimal arrangement made it sound even more evil.
She then ended the concert with three of her big hits over her still young career — “Because of You,” “Mr. Know It All” and “Miss Independent.”
The near two hour set flew by. There really weren’t any down moments, and Kelly’s vocals were spot on throughout. Song after song, Kelly exhibited a super-strong voice, a personable demeanor and evidence she’s got a long career ahead of her.
This was the second concert my wife and I had seen of Kelly’s. This one was markedly better, and makes us already anticipating her next appearance in North Carolina.
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