In the middle of Kelly Clarkson's third long, endearing monologue last night, she faced the crowd of 3,000-plus jubilant fans at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom and became one herself: "That song was 'Lies' from Attack & Release if you want to go get it," she said of the Black Keys cover she had begun as a bruising a cappella. "I really love music — like, all kinds."
Clarkson is as comfortable stomping her boots to garage-punk like the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" as she is flexing her drawl on Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" and bouncing up and down to her own pop masterpieces like "My Life Would Suck Without You." She did all three with remarkable skill on the third date of her new tour behind All I Ever Wanted, putting her mark on the oft-covered Stripes track with scorching, bluesy runs.
There were no dancers, no acrobatics, no moving set pieces and no special effects: the stars of Clarkson's show are her emotive, powerful voice and her down-home charm. She made the rounds back and forth across the stage in front of her sharp 11-piece band, but gravitated to its center, right hand wrapped around the mic and her left resting on her chest as she effortlessly belted uptempos like "All I Ever Wanted" and "If I Can't Have You" and ballads like "Breakaway" and "Cry." She clearly required no pyrotechnics: the audience's adoration of the Texas singer was so palpable, as she sang about being defeated by love again and again you could practically feel the room wonder en masse "Why can't she just find a good guy?"
Bitter rocker "Never Again" from My December got a Euro-disco makeover with see-sawing, throbby synths, and a trio of horn players added brassy blasts to "I Do Not Hook Up" and "Walk Away," which grooved with a taste of Duffy's retro soul. But Clarkson seemed most delighted with her selection of covers, which started with a merging of Alanis Morissette's "That I Would Be Good" with the wailing chorus of Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody." Clarkson recalled seeing the Kings open for U2, and revealed Morissette is one of her musical heroes. "I wish I'd written that song, but I didn't," she said, innocently adding, "But singles are never my favorites on albums anyway." Stripped down to broad acoustic strokes, though, Alanis' influence was evident on the chorus of "Behind These Hazel Eyes."
Clarkson paid homage to another of her inspirations, Reba McEntire (who was in the audience) by recalling her freak-out after the phone conversation that led to the pair collaborating on "Because of You." The crowd handled its half of the duet last night, singing unabashedly along to "Breakaway" and "Already Gone," too. Clarkson was happy to play cheerful conductor, holding up her mic stand to the crowd and sharing wholesome stories. She told fans in the front rows to disregard any seeds caught in her teeth from a blueberry smoothie she had pre-show: "I do brush my teeth, I'm not a dirty girl."
When the chugging guitar riff that heralded the arrival of mega-smash "Since U Been Gone" arrived, the room turned into an electric sea of flailing arms and pogo-ing heads. It doesn't matter if critics name the track one of the best songs of the decade, though it's certainly a contender for Number One — Clarkson's delivery of the most chipper kiss-off anthem of all time is enough to make anyone a superfan.
"Seven Nation Army":
"That I Would Be Good"/"Use Somebody":
"All I Ever Wanted"
"I Do Not Hook Up"
"That I Would Be Good"/"Use Somebody" (Alanis Morisette and Kings of Leon covers)
"If I Can't Have You"
"Lies" (Black Keys cover)
"Walking After Midnight" (Patsy Cline cover)
"Behind These Hazel Eyes"
"I Want You"
"Because of You"
"Since U Been Gone"
"7 Nation Army" (White Stripes cover)
"My Life Would Suck Without You"