Yesterday my pal Jami and I took a two-hours-and-change drive to Allentown, Pa., the home of the Great Allentown Fair (now in its 157th year). The reason: The evening’s grandstand entertainment was headlined by Kelly Clarkson, who was bookended by the Earth, Wind & Fire/Chicago double bill and Tim McGraw on the fair’s roster of entertainment, and who was there to show a slice of northeastern America just what being an American Idol means in this time of fragmented pop landscapes and Taylor Hicks victories.
Clarkson is a natural performer, her charisma spilling out all over the place and giving her near-total command of the crowd. Her voice sounded like it had for the most part bounced back from the vocal problems she suffered earlier this week (although she did allow that “Don’t Let Me Stop You”—a personal favorite from her recent album All I Ever Wanted—was kind of tough to sing), and it was rounded out by a fuller-than-full band that had both a DJ and a horn section. The DJ would splice current pop songs into the mix between tracks to keep the crowd’s energy up, while the horn section really shone on “Walk Away,” which was reinvented with an arrangement that recalled Huey Lewis & The News’ “Power Of Love.” (Pretty sure it’s clear that I mean this in a good way, but if not, yeah.)
Perhaps most importantly, Clarkson put the lessons that were taught to her by Simon Cowell throughout the show—namely, the one about looking back to look forward. Her set wasn’t merely a run-through of her own hits, it was a look at her own personal definition of “pop,” with rock-radio staples like Kings Of Leon and the Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom” mingling with “Poker Face” and “I Gotta Feeling,” as well as oldies like Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” (which was dropped into All I Ever Wanted’s stridently new-wavey “If I Can’t Have You”), Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and Janet Jackson’s “If.” Clarkson covered the latter two songs outright, and while her rich voice took to the Cline track well, it was her spitfire performance of the lusty “If”—which blew my mind so hard, I had to ask Jami if I was really hearing what I was hearing—that made me think she should maybe work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on her next record. Or at the very least put out an unauthorized song-by-song cover of Control, just for kicks.
The only bad thing about the night—aside from the traffic at the Holland Tunnel approach—was the realization that I’m pretty much off fair food, thanks to a pile of soft serve that tasted like slightly sweetened air yet still attracted enough bees to be a pain in the butt. I’m going to save my feelings on fried dough as a whole until I sample a zeppole from the local pizza parlor, but yeah. Disappointing!
The set list:
“All I Ever Wanted”
“I Do Not Hook Up”
“Some [Girls] Have All The Luck”
“Don’t Let Me Stop You”
“If I Can’t Have You”
“Walkin’ After Midnight”
“I Want You”
“Because Of You”
“Since U Been Gone”
“My Life Would Suck Without You”
[Photo: Jami Attenberg]
Grandstand Shows [Great Allentown Fair; note what's possibly my favorite Fair-related detail, namely that the fair's final night features a demolition derby. Destroy, build, destroy, indeed.]
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