Greek Theater, Berkeley, California (USA) - Oct 21, 2005
October 24, 2005 09:50 AM

Just about everybody knows that Sheryl Crow can handle herself with an electric guitar and a four-piece rock band. But who knew that she could do just as well with a 12-member classical string section? That was just one of many lessons to be learned Friday (10/21) during the ongoing course that can best be described as "The Redefinition of Sheryl Crow."

Crow, as the instructor for the evening, did a great job in educating her "students" at the UC Berkeley Greek Theatre in how to avoid being pigeonholed. In doing so, she helped make sense of her latest CD, "Wildflower," a work that perplexed a number of both fans and critics when it was released in September.

It wasn't that the CD was bad that had many folks scratching their noggins upon first listen--it was that it was different. Having made her fortune riding such rowdy singles as "Everyday is a Winding Road," "All I Wanna Do" and "Soak Up the Sun," Crow followed a completely different path with the softer-edged "Wildflower."

Yet, the things that made the new CD sound so curious—-the string section, the heavy reliance on singer/songwriter material and mid-tempo balladry, the absence of summery anthems--are exactly the same elements that made this Berkeley show work so well.

Whereas Crow initially seemed like an artist ignoring her strengths in the studio, she came across in concert like someone who is pushing her musical boundaries and expanding her appeal. In particular, her use of a string section on stage really seemed to add depth to both old and new material. Granted, however, it was still a bit weird to see the guitar-slinger and her regular rock band share the stage with 12 classically trained players and a conductor.

Although her musical direction is changing, the 43-year-old vocalist's reliance on her ample sex appeal remains as strong as ever. Even Crow had to laugh at her wardrobe--a mere wisp of a low-cut short dress that seemed better suited for a warm summer day in Minneapolis than a cool fall night in Berkeley.

"OK, I can't lie to you, wearing this dress in this weather is retarded," she said to a crowd bundled in heavy coats and blankets. "But, you see, if you hit a few bad notes, at least you still have the legs."

Yes, we saw and, surely, many appreciated those legs. Fortunately, they weren't needed to cover up any bad notes. Crow sounded great as she kicked off the show with the fan-favorite "Run, Baby, Run" and proceeded to grow stronger as she mixed old with new. After a solid version of "Maybe Angels," from her eponymous sophomore effort of 1996, the singer cracked the seal on the "Wildflower" material and performed a trio of new songs: "Good is Good," "Letter to God" and "Perfect Lie."

Both "Good is Good" and "Letter to God" were two of the best songs of the night and, as unlikely as it may sound, far superior to the concert versions of such hits as "All I Wanna Do" and "A Change."

Although only moderately appealing on record, "Good is Good" translated live as a solid piece of '70s-style, mid-tempo classic rock. In fact, the tune possessed a certain Marshall Tucker Band vibe as the vocalist rhymed "rolling thunder" with "rock to crawl right under" while wild geese were shown flying across a large video screen overhead.

"Letter to God," while it severely tested Crow's vocal range, also came across much better in concert than on disc. "Everybody should write a song about God," Crow told the crowd. "It just wreaks havoc."

Crow's performance improved as it got more intimate. She grabbed an acoustic guitar, took a seat on a stool and delivered a knockout version of "Strong Enough." She switched to piano and achieved similar results with the sweet "Wildflower" track "Always on Your Side."

Of course, not everybody was happy with Crow's softer focus.

"She's supposed to be rock 'n' roll," complained one man. "This isn't rock 'n' roll."

As if on cue, Crow cranked up the rock by ending the main set with "All I Wanna Do" and "A Change" and then continued to roll in the encore with "Soak Up the Sun" and "Everyday is a Winding Road."

Crow topped off that flurry of hits with a surprise cover of Elton John's "Levon" that truly brought the house down.

It would've been hard to have seen that one coming by looking solely through a pigeonhole. And that, more than anything, is the lasting lesson to take away from "The Redefinition of Sheryl Crow".

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