Saturday, September 14, 2013

OneRepublic & Sara Bareilles - Open Air Theatre at SDSU, September 14, 2013


I'm not a huge fan of Sara Bareilles. I like a couple of her songs, and I find her generally inoffensive. Multiple friends of mine were going (each separately) to see her show at the Open Air Theatre at San Diego State University, however, which hasn't ever happened before. That made it practically the biggest show of the year, as far as my world was concerned, so how could I not attend?

Truly, no other artist is so broadly appealing across all my social circles as Sara Bareilles. Well, actually, not so much my social circles as the wide political and religious spectrum that my collective acquaintances span. I know people from the moderate right to the far left who all adore Sara. My far right acquaintances have never heard of her or anything else in popular culture, and there's maybe a gap in the moderate left, and then there are those actively apolitical agnostics who are basically impossible to account for. But, subtract the geezers and the hipsters, and almost every other privileged member of the middle class at least kind of likes Sara Bareilles, as I do. I think conservative types appreciate her mature vocals and adult contemporary sound. The truly committed liberals, meanwhile, tend not to have the free time to cultivate sophisticated tastes for the arts, and, among pop artists, perhaps they find Sara appealing for her lyrics in such hits as "Love Song" and "King of Anything," which give off the image of a strong-willed and independent woman. Basically, she's inoffensive to all.

I generalize, of course, which is terrible of me. But the appeal of Sara Bareilles does genuinely intrigue me. As a performer, she is a great vocalist and pianist, and her show reminded me how really good many of her songs are. As a personality, she's not quirky, charismatic, or cool. Honestly, that mature voice of hers is deceptive, because the actual content of her songs and her personality, if you pay attention, are not very far removed at all from the likes of Taylor Swift. Between songs, nearly everything out of her mouth focused on the same topic, which is also what most of her signature songs are about: her various douche bag exes who have done her wrong. Going by her fan base, maybe one could think of Sara Bareilles as "Taylor Swift for grownups." But, really, that's oxymoronic; she's more just Taylor Swift with an older voice, except that Taylor Swift is also a much bigger and more entertaining character (not that I've ever had the pleasure of seeing Taylor Swift live, but I bet it would be pretty cool).

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the show well enough. The highlight was Sara's performance of "I Choose You," a song that speaks positively of romance. Introducing the song, she asked the audience, "Who here is really stoked about the person they came with?" and got a huge response. Then, she asked, "Who here can't stand the person they came with?" and got an even more enthusiastic response. But the biggest applause came when some guy near the front proposed to his girl during the song. Sara didn't seem to be in on it—she reacted with an expletive while pointing it out mid-song—but she managed to incorporate "She said yes" as an impromptu lyric that proved the perfect ending to the song.

YouTube user jediknight77 captured the moment quite marvelously:


Oh, I also saw OneRepublic perform. It was a double-header, you see, so, after Sara finished her set, OneRepublic came on and did theirs. I'm less a fan of OneRepublic than I am of Sara Bareilles.

It's a tricky thing with male groups. If you look over the acts I've covered, you may notice that most of them have centered around female vocalists. Not that I need to defend that, but I'll say that, as I see it, male artists just have a lot more going against them. There are the indie rock groups, the hip-hop acts, and the country artists, and then everything else kind of falls into the "sissy music" category. (Well, the banjo people are a yet separate phenomenon, but they're often mixed-gendered, and I don't know how much longer that can last anyway.) Not all of that sissy music is bad, by my measure, but the point is that that's a pejorative that, for obvious reasons, a female artist with the same style of music wouldn't have to contend with (though a male fan of theirs might). Even a wildly successful male artist, such as Adam Levine of Maroon 5, can't really command respect from a masculine audience the way that any top female artist can inspire female listeners. Maroon 5 does have enormous appeal with the opposite gender, probably even to an extent that no female artist can comparably claim male fans simply by being sexy, so maybe it is ultimately still easier being a dude in the music industry. It's only an uphill battle for them to get on my rotation. I'm a heterosexual male, and Maroon 5 doesn't do anything for me. It's just another male pop rock band with a frontman I would never aspire to be like.

And, even while acknowledging that a lot of that pansy music is worthwhile, I must say, that line between something halfway hip, like Muse or The Killers, and something way lame, like Train or Matchbox 20, is really quite razor thin. When OneRepublic first broke through to the mainstream, by way of a Timbaland remix of their single "Apologize," I think they were right on that line. Two albums later, they're clearly now on the wrong side of Fun., which has displaced OneRepublic as that line of "they're not quite cool, but I don't think less of you for owning a song or two of theirs."

But, hey, I'll admit to having liked "Apologize," as well as their later, similar song, "Secrets." It's all subjective anyway, and what I found was that, despite my assessment that OneRepublic isn't cool, they still maintain a huge following—both genders, all ages, and at least two ethnicities (white and Asian)—which showed up in force to cheer them at this concert. And it wasn't a bad show, by any means. Like most pop rock, their songs are, at worst, maybe just a little obnoxious but never really painful. And theirs was one of the higher-production shows I've ever been to, with lots of running video in the background, as well as confetti and pyrotechnics.

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