At 9:30, Sara Bareilles Hosts a Spirited Singalong

Sara Bareilles's catchy songcraft charmed the crowd at the 9:30 club.
Sara Bareilles's catchy songcraft charmed the crowd at the 9:30 club. (By Jim Cooper -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
Thursday, May 1, 2008

"There'll be girls across the nation that'll eat this up" was the first line Sara Bareilles sang at the 9:30 club Monday night, and she'd proved it before the song it began, "Bottle It Up," was half-done.

The audience, sold out and disproportionately distaff, screamed at Bareilles's every vocal flourish, the kind of misguided expression of enthusiasm that often annoys more established singer-songwriters but clearly thrilled Bareilles in her first 9:30 gig as headliner. "You sound like angels when you sing along," she remarked of the crowd assist on "Morningside" -- spirited to be sure, but angelic is a stretch.

The latest piano-based songstress to emerge in the Norah Jones/Fiona Apple mold, Bareilles got noticed the old-fashioned way, playing open mikes and such. Her singing was fluid, soulful and warbly enough to satisfy an audience reared on "American Idol" without torturing canines for miles around. Her self-deprecating charisma almost disguised the fact that only a handful of the 13 tunes she played (mostly from her "Little Voice" album) are memorable -- there was still a whole lotta vanilla balladeerin' goin' on.

But the highlights were plenty high, including her version of the Beatles' "Oh! Darling," accompanied only by Javier Dunn's guitar. She then strapped on an ax herself to perform "August Moon," a new song about catching her ex-boyfriend with another woman.

She'd brought a rock trio with her but was better without them, on such numbers as "Fairytale" ( "what happens after 'happily ever after' ") and especially the encore, which paired Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" with Bareilles's haunting "Gravity." The evening's final performance was its best, and "Gravity" is strong evidence that Bareilles's songcraft may yet warrant the stardom she's attained.

-- Chris Klimek

© 2008 The Washington Post Company