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Kelly Clarkson: That girl could sing

By David Menconi

DURHAM – Kelly Clarkson is nothing if not a dramatist. Here’s someone who released an album titled “My December” a few months after turning the ripe old age of 25 – and Tuesday night she came onstage at the Durham Performing Arts Center preceded by a montage of headlines about various struggles (“Fat,” “Failure” and such) on the video screens.

Then she proceeded to blast those headlines into irrelevance. Because whatever her drama-queen tendencies, Clarkson can really, really sing, even if it’s often hard to tell just how good she is over when she has to fight to be heard over some of her backing arrangements.

As the “American Idol” it’s cool to like, Clarkson can pretty much do any style convincingly. Her biggest hits have been uptempo girl-power rock and dance-leaning pop, but she can also do convincing arena-level bombast of both the rock and country persuasions. Best of all, she's a fabulous torch singer when she turns the volume down.

Tuesday’s best moments were when she was accompanied by just piano, especially on a pair of covers – Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity,” and a soulful reading of Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t.” At one point during the latter song, a loud male voice rang out from the crowd:

“YES, M’AM!”

Actually, the crowd was pretty heavily distaff, gathered to bask in the drama of Clarkson’s story. Three of the set’s 21 songs had the word “Gone” in the title and another dozen or so centered on some variation of that theme, presented as epic narratives about female trials and tribulations.

Clarkson didn’t make anyone wait too long for the big hits, serving up “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “Since U Been Gone” as the second and third songs in the set. Also present and accounted for were “Breakaway” (still gloriously catchy), “Miss Independent” and, of course, “My Life Would Suck Without You.”

The crowd just ate it all up, singing and chanting along on pretty much all the loud ones. Still, it was those quiet songs that hinted at what Clarkson can really do when she’s not having to strain to be heard. She’s coming to realize that herself.

The encore kicked off with “Never Again,” stripped down from the 2007 original version to just voice and piano, and the rage it conveyed was almost chilling. Afterward, Clarkson was perky as ever while drinking in the audience’s applause.

“I love that,” she said. “I sing that one quiet, and it’s even angrier!”

There’s a lesson to be learned.

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or

DPAC battles the scalpers

I was recently perusing the Durham Performing Arts Center website to check the date on a concert, when I saw something I hadn't noticed before. Tucked into the bottom of almost every listing was this notice:

Pursuant to §14-344.1(b) of the General Statutes of North Carolina, the Durham Performing Arts Center has filed a notice with the NC Secretary of State prohibiting the Online Resale of Admission Tickets to this event.

This goes back to a story I wrote last year, about parasites -- broker sites that try to pass themselves off as venue websites, even though they're populated by scalpers selling tickets well above face price. After that story ran, DPAC management met with the Secretary of State's office and decided to give prohibiting online resales a try. So far, it's working at least some of the time.

"We filed our first prohibitions early last fall," says DPAC general manager Bob Klaus. "We tested five shows and to our amazement, many of the biggest ticket re-selling sites dropped those listings."

Brokers, of course, don't agree that this is a good thing. The argument for "secondary market sales" is that it's classic free-market economics based on supply and demand. The ticket-broker industry's position is that attempts to regulate ticket resales are misguided and even counterproductive.

"You can't regulate the resale of tickets," declares Gary Adler, general counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Ticket Brokers. "If you try and make restrictions, you are limiting the amount of tickets in the market. The secondary market when it's open and free is a beautiful thing, it puts tickets into people's hands at a fair market price. Maybe that's more than face value, but that's the band's fault for not having more accurate information about what they should be charging."

Whether you agree or disagree with that viewpoint, it's an issue that won't be going away anytime soon. In fact, you can probably count on the NATB lobbying the North Carolina legislature about amending this law before too long. For more, see the story in Sunday's paper.

Durham Performing Arts Center No. 4 venue in America

Durham Performing Arts Center recorded 68 sellouts and a total attendance of 414,056 in 2011, putting it at No. 4 on national entertainment industry magazine Pollstar’s annual ranking.

Only Radio City Music Hall (No. 1), Coliseum Theater at Caesars Palace (No. 2), the Fox Theatre of Atlanta (No. 3) saw more business. New York’s Beacon Theater was No. 5. 

“Being anywhere in Pollstar’s ranking of top ten theaters is an honor. The combination of dual blockbusters, Lion King and Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, in one calendar year definitely helped propel us from our No. 9 ranking in 2010 to No. 4 this season,” said Rachel Gragg, senior director of marketing.

Red Hot Chili Peppers reschedule for April

Last week, Loretta Lynn's Triangle show was rescheduled to April because she's recovering from knee surgery. And now, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Jan. 27 show at RBC Center has also been postponed to the same month, also due to a lower-body surgical situation.

The Chili Peppers' new date will be April 4. In a statement, tour promoter Live Nation said the show was  postponed because lead singer Anthony Kiedis recently had to undergo surgery because of "multiple foot injuries," adding that he is expected to make a fully recovery. Also rescheduled are dates in Charlotte, to April 6; and Greensboro, to April 9.

Loretta Lynn postpones -- again!

Question: What, besides serious divatude, do Aretha Franklin and Loretta Lynn have in common?

Answer: They've both called off multiple concert dates in the Triangle.

Yes, it's true. Lynn's DPAC show, originally scheduled for Oct. 23 but postponed due to illness to this Sunday, has been postponed again. Details as to why remain unconfirmed; and at this point, I don't have a firm reschedule date more specific than "sometime in April."

I'll post details once I get them. Meantime, all I have to say is, argh...

UPDATE: Still nothing about the reasons for the postponement, but the rescheduled date is April 7.

ADDENDUM (1/5/12): Barry Saunders weighs in.

Aretha Franklin promises?

Four times, Aretha Franklin has been scheduled to play the Triangle; and four times, the show has not happened for one reason or another. The most recent instance was this past October, when her DPAC show was postponed until Feb. 9. Who knows, maybe it really will happen then -- see below, a statement Franklin just put out.

We'll see. I must confess that I'm skeptical, but I still hope it happens. So c'mon, Ms. Franklin: Show a little respect, and don't string us along.


An Open Letter to My Dear Fans & Friends in Durham, North Carolina:
Thank you all for allowing me to pay tribute to one of the nation’s greatest men at the unveiling of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Thank you as well for the support the year before during my hospitalization.  I appreciate your understanding and am now coming to Durham to rock, sock and soul to the max.  Look forward to it and mark your calendars for February 9, 2012 at the Durham Performing Arts Center!  
Love ya,
Aretha Franklin

There goes Rhymin' Simon

By David Menconi

DURHAM -- Paul Simon has always been a globetrotter, employing worldly rhythms and percussion long before the rest of the Western pop universe caught on. Nowadays, however, he seems more interested in bringing everything back home -- and he definitely pulls it off.

Simon rolled into a soldout Durham Performing Arts Center Thursday night with an eight-piece ensemble that was a fascinating combination of black, white, east, west, head and heart. With Simon at the lead, the ensemble combined elements of Cajun soul, cutting blues-rock, South African township jive, doo wop, reggae, island salsa, gospel revival and soul revue into what sounded like the world's wordiest zydeco band. Or maybe the world's funkiest folk-rock band.

Whatever you want to call it, it was an incredibly cool two-hour set, and the band was one of the best I've ever seen. It was sort of like watching the 1927-era Yankees or the "Showtime"-era Lakers at work. Even the drum solo was a pleasure to watch.

Back in his 1960s-vintage breakthrough period, Simon always wore his youth uneasily, mostly because his sort of alienation always seemed a lot more grownup than the peace-and-love naivete of his peers. There's nobody better at capturing that feeling of being lonely and alone in a crowd, even if the crowd is only two people.

Perhaps that's why his songs have aged so well. "The Boy in the Bubble" opened the show, a song from 1986 that still sounds brand new. And it's a song that has never stopped evolving over the past quarter-century; nowadays it sounds like third-world blues rock, menacing as ever.

The 22-song set had the requisite iconic crowd-pleasers, including "The Sound of Silence" in a solo acoustic rendition with flamenco flourishes on guitar; "Mother and Child Reunion," now more of a reggae song than ever before; "Slip Slidin' Away" as doo-wop by way of Johannesburg; and a lovely version of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" on acoustic guitars and accordion.

But the more recent and obscure songs more than held their own, including "Dazzling Blue," "Rewrite" and "The Afterlife" from Simon's new album "So Beautiful or So What." "Hearts and Bones," title track to his underrated (and unjustly overlooked) 1983 album, was heart-stoppingly gorgeous, and it served as lead-in to a medley that included Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train" and the Chet Atkins instrumental "Wheels" -- with drummer Jim Oblon playing lead guitar. A strange combination, but it came together seamlessly.

All the musicians multi-tasked on multiple instruments, most notably lead guitarist Mark Stewart, who chipped in on saxophone between solos. The other guitarist was Vincent Nguini, whose angular playing meshed with Stewart's studio-cat vibe in tones and patterns of strange beauty. Throw in the steady rolling rhythms and occasional African scat vocals of bassist Bakiti Kumalo (a Simon sideman since 1986's "Graceland"), and the music seemed to occupy a dizzying quantity of dimensions in the time-space continuum.

One wonders how long Simon, who turned 70 years old this year, can keep doing this. Here's hoping it's a lot longer, because he's never been better.

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or

DPAC expects millionth customer

The Durham Performing Arts Center expects its one-millionth patron to arrive  Saturday afternoon, as a walk-up customer for "Radio City Christmas Spectacular."

Free tickets to Broadway at DPAC and a concert are going to the theatergoer who happens to be in the right place in line.

DPAC opened in November 2008, and is currently ranked the third-most popular theater in the United States by the trade journal Pollstar. The city-owned theater brought in about $2.2 million for the city  during fiscal years 2009-10 and 2010-11.

News from the Costello household: Diana Krall coming to DPAC

There's still no word on when Elvis Costello's postponed Durham Performing Arts Center show might be rescheduled, although indications are that he'll play there sometime next year. In the meantime, another member of his household has popped up on DPAC's 2012 schedule. Jazz pianist Diana Krall, Costello's wife since 2003, will play there on March 22. The "official" on-sale date for tickets is Nov. 11, but there's a "Friends of DPAC" pre-sale on Nov. 9. Check details on that here.

UPDATE (11/11): And we finally have a rescheduled date for Costello, which is now set for April 29.

Adele's other shoe drops, too

Well, there's no reason for the Triangle to feel slighted about Adele's Durham show getting called off. Now word has come down that all of Adele's tour dates for the rest of the year, in England as well as America, have been canceled. Here's the announcement:

It is with deep regret that Adele has been forced to cancel her remaining live dates and promotional appearances in 2011. She is to undergo surgery to alleviate the current issues with her throat and a full recovery is expected. As a result, doctors have ordered her to rest her voice and completely recuperate before looking to schedule any work commitments.

Adele's cancellation is part of a run of bad luck this month at DPAC, including postponement of the venue's Aretha Franklin and Loretta Lynn shows. But one has to admire DPAC's verve, because venue management is still in there pitching. The 2012 tour schedule has just been released for another singing legend with a shaky attendance record, George "No Show" Jones, and he's coming to DPAC on Aug. 18. Jones made his NC State Fair show as scheduled this month, so anything is possible.

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