Friday Night: Sheryl Crow At The Woodlands

Sheryl Crow Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion August 27, 2010

See a slideshow of photos from the concert.

There is a mile-wide disparity between what Sheryl Crow is doing now and what her fanbase wants her to do, which was evident on Friday night at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Touring behind a Memphis-style soul-inflected album, 100 Miles To Memphis, with an 11-piece backing band isn't exactly ear candy for the folks she meets at the crossroads of her career.

Almost two decades past Tuesday Night Music Club with only a few scattered radio singles since, it's hearty die-hards who can be commended for sticking it out for her. She's an amazing musician and singer, and her ear for a hook and adding an emotion to that hook with winning results is why she is still knocking around the business and not, you know, Tracy Chapman.

We hadn't been to a show at Cynthia Woods that wasn't a massively packed affair in years, and the crowd barely filled up the covered seating at the venue. Seeing the lawn totally bare of stoners, blankets and beer tubs was eerie. We can only imagine what that image was like from the stage. One would have thought that everyone assembled would be a rag-tag team of superfans, a distillation of the best of the best, but that wasn't happening, nor was it true.

Something has to be said about this new soul revival going on. In the wake of Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones, the Stax reissues, the left-field success of Texas' own Black Joe Lewis - who was playing at the same time as Crow down south at the Continental Club - many established artists in need of a new racket have begun clinging to soul and R&B. Insert long, rusty shank with Taylor Hicks' name on it here.

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It works with a great band behind you tooling around with time-tested sounds, dripping with instrumental virtuosity. The Dap-Kings, the Honeybears, bands like that can breathe new life into the genre for a new crop of listeners. When you don't have quality at your fingertips, the tunes get disjointed, flat.

So it went on Friday night with Crow playing a completely hit-or-miss, quasi-hit show for half the reserved covered section. For her part, Crow looked aggravated, and who wouldn't be with a sea of khaki sitting on one hand and a cradling a plastic cup of Merlot in the other, only standing for "A Change Would Do You Good" from her 1996 self-titled follow-up to Music Club.

She trudged through though which was admirable, but the gritted-teeth look was hard to hide. At times it seems like she and a gaggle of thirty people in the closest sections knew what songs she was doing. The uneasiness seemed to wash away halfway through the gig.

God bless the folks who have dived into the new Memphis album for clapping along. An early highlight was the reggae-rocker "Eye To Eye" from that disc, but trying to get the crowd to shimmy island-style was all for naught. On record it was aided by Keef himself, but the live ringer drained the blood from it. Maybe it was his white-boy dashiki and faux Lou Reed turdiness that sucked out the feeling.

Thankfully one of her most bittersweet tracks, "Strong Enough," didn't get a soul-shellacking and instead got the twanging of its life. The single mother of two took the lyrical content of the song for a spin, turning it into Match.com worthy spot. Yes, we suppose we are in fact strong enough to tour with two kids in a bus with you, Miss Crow. We just don't think we would watch the show very often.

We can't completely bag the soul slant though, with some songs benefiting from the injection of horns and female backing vocals. "My Favorite Mistake" and "Soak Up the Sun" were made a sight livelier than before, and "All I Wanna Do" was made almost vaguely Donna Summer-ish. That's not soul, but you get the gist.

She helped close the show with a take on the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," perfectly replicating baby MJ's vocals with her own rocker howl. Maybe an album of covers would have been in order rather than a new set of original tracks? A smaller, more intimate venue would have seen this thing killing outright at the House of Blues or even Verizon Wireless.

There's always the spring.

Personal Bias: We like female rockers, and Crow is one of the best.

The Crowd: The nice couple down the street from your parents with the two grown kids, and about 500 divorcees that looked like variations of Crow. And a lot more dudes than you would expect.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Where's Kid Rock?" (add honking laughter)

Random Notebook Dump: What do you call those strapless and sleeveless tops that every woman in America wears?

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