Scotiabanc Place - Ottawa, Canada - July 10, 2006

Crow soars at the Bank


OTTAWA - Sheryl Crow has good reason to rock out. After an especially rough year in which nothing seemed to go right, Crow, 44, split with fiance and seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and then had to cancel her tour last winter after discovering she had breast cancer.

So it was no wonder that the eight-time Grammy Award-winning singer was anxious to perform again. That was clear to see in her two-hour-plus set last night at Scotiabank Place.

I don't know if its because of music's gender bias, or Crow's cool easy-going personality, but she's never quite gotten the recognition she deserves.

Surely one of the more inventive songwriters in rock today, it's often seemed that her romantic entanglements with celebrated actors and musicians such as Owen Wilson, Eric Clapton and Armstrong have from time to time overshadowed the often brilliant career she's had since releasing her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club and the singles All I Wanna Do and Leaving Las Vegas.

Since then, Crow has released a string of fantastically eclectic singles, including My Favourite Mistake, a song she wrote about her relationship with Clapton, The First Cut Is The Deepest, If It Makes You Happy, Steve McQueen and most recently, Good Is Good from her 2005 album Wildflower.

Now, post-surgery and back on the road looking like a million bucks, Crow opened her show with Run Baby Run, featuring a string quartet, organ and regular band and Crow wailing a real hurtin' vocal blues streak.

Personally I've always enjoyed Crow's clever brand of pop the same way I've tapped into Jann Arden, with those hopelessly cynical lyrics and the hard rock bite she gives soft rock.

Close your eyes and you could almost hear Arden backing Crow on Hard To Stand, Maybe Angels, Good Is Good and the lovely Letter To God with the whole stage awash with video hand-scrawling a divine wish list.

Surprisingly, fewer than 3,000 fans turned out for the concert. With that small a house, Crow would have been perfectly at home at the National Arts Centre. While the intimate setting, at least intimate by hockey arena standards, gave the fans a close look at Crow, the hockey rink's wretched acoustics devoured the plaintive and gorgeously textured string arrangements that perfectly complemented Crow's breezy, sweet and sometimes snarling vocals. I could barely make out one of my favourite Crow tunes, My Favourite Mistake. Acoustic challenges were less of a problem on her moving cover of Cat Stevens' The First Cut Is The Deepest and, later, Leaving Las Vegas.

A version of Strong Enough with slide guitar, fiddle, strings and three-part harmonies and the title track to her latest album Wildflower pulled heartstrings with lots of emotion and gorgeous playing, while a rousing turn on If It Makes You Happy had the front three rows all up dancing along.

Perhaps big electric power-chord guitar bands can get away with bad sound, but Crow's concert was far too musically complex, subtle and downright delicious to experience in a cave in Kanata. But Crow didn't complain. Instead, interspersed throughout the night, she kept the mood alternately rocking out full tilt and then sweetly melancholic, talking only briefly about her cancer before playing Always On Your Side on the piano.

By the end of the night, Crow was pumping up the energy on All I Wanna Do and A Change Would Do You Good.

Crow is such as an imaginative songwriter and performer, seeing her play under any circumstances would have been good. But tonight, with the worst behind her, she seemed just that much better.