‘Tis the holiday season, which means it is time for Austin radio station Mix 94.7’s Merry Mix Show. This event always pulls together some of music’s biggest acts and this year is no exception, bringing pop superstar Kelly Clarkson to the ACL Live at the Moody Theater on Wednesday night, December 13, 2017. She was joined by Rachel Platten and Secondhand Serenade.
The mood was festive as Mix 94.7 personalities Booker, Alex & Sara welcomed the crowd. Booker was decked out in a Christmas suit that would easily hold its own in an ugly Christmas sweater competition. They introduced the night’s first performer and Secondhand Serenade sauntered up to the mic, acoustic guitar in hand. “How ya guys doin’ Austin? I’m John.. also known as Secondhand Serenade. He seemed to stumble a bit with his opening banter but introduced a “throwback” that he was just playing on tour. He launched into his hit “Vulnerable” from his 2007 breakthrough album “Awake.” “Awake” was originally introduced as a demo that gained traction through MySpace, launching John Vesely’s career and becoming a major touchstone for a generation of young lovers. His voice overflowed with feeling and you could feel the emotion in the song as he sang it to an increasingly receptive audience.
After a bit more clumsy stage talk about South-by-Southwest, he followed with another tune from the same album before shifting from his own songs to acknowledge the evening. “It’s the Christmas season and this is a holiday show . . . so we’re gonna do a little sing-along.” He strummed the progression to “Feliz Navidad” and led the crowd through a spirited rendition of the Christmas classic.
Vesely shared that he was recently married and commented on the “shorter” microphone stand next to him before bringing out his bride Veronica to join him on “Maybe I’m Just Drunk.” The two swapped verses in the country-tinged song about hope and heartache.
He excitedly introduced his “first radio single in eight years!” and thanked the evening’s hosts, Mix 94.7, for playing it and helping it climb up the charts, which saw it at #33 on this evening. As with his best songs, “Lost” paints an eloquent picture of people dealing with relationships. Vesely displays an honesty and passion in his songs that is a welcome respite to some of today’s chart-toppers.
He closed his set with his multi-platinum hit “Fall For You,” much to the audience’s delight. All-in-all it was a standout set from an artist who deserves to be back on the charts.
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In contrast to Secondhand Serenade’s stripped down and emotional set, Rachel Platten hit the stage in a whirlwind of dance-pop moves and feel good exaltations. Opening with “Stand By You” from her 2016 album “Wildfire,” Platten raised the energy to another level and had the crowd dancing along to her struts and gyrations.
What struck me from the outset was Platten’s ease and approachability. She does not come across as a cookie cutter dance-pop diva, but instead displays an amazing likeability that draws you in and makes you instantly feel at home. This was increasingly highlighted as the evening progressed.
Sure, she had the usual “Put your hands in the air and party with me” stage talk, but Platten actually seems to be having fun and means it. Her realness first showed when she stopped just before a song started and giggled “I have an untied shoelace, hold on” before bending down to tie it.
As the song “Lone Ranger” finished, Platten was interrupted on stage. “Oh My God! My sister just had a baby!” she exclaimed to wild cheers from the crowd. It was too precious for words watching her uncontrolled joy. She asked the audience to help her make a video for the newborn, welcoming her into the world. “I don’t know her name yet so we’ll say Happy birthday BABY!” she exclaimed, with squeaky-voiced excitement.
She suddenly realized that “Oh no.. I’m wasting my (playing) time!” and proceeded to let loose her freely-associated thoughts. “I wanna sing some songs . . . This is a song off my new record “Waves” . . . It’s a brand new record . . . its out now! And then, to the probable chagrin of her PR team, she exclaimed, “I don’t care about anything though . . . who cares about records?” Luckily she saved herself with “But you should buy it!” The audience roared their approval as the band started “Whole Heart.”
But she wasn’t over. This new aunt was VERY excited. “I don’t know how to get through this set because I just want to Facetime and see the baby!” The run-on sentences continued: “Are you guys aunts? Is anyone an aunt here? It’s so cool! What do you DO? I’m really keeping it together tonight.. OK, I’m usually so professional on stage, I’m sorry . . . no, I’m not really . . . actually . . . ooh I love this song . . . This is called “Collide”. . . This is sexy . . . this is about my husband!”
The audience ate it up. Any barrier between performer and audience was destroyed as the Moody Theater basked in Rachel’s giddy happiness.
She eventually gained her control but never lost her joy, and it came out in her performance. She played a couple of slower numbers, including “Better Place” which she shared that she wrote about her sister and her husband when they first met and that she sang it at their wedding. “It’s perfect that I’m singing it again on the night that their baby is born!” she happily exclaimed.
“So I’m not gonna go off stage and come back on. There’s no time for that” she said as her set drew to a close. “If you take nothing else away from tonight, let it be this. That only YOU decide what’s comfortable and what isn’t. Only you decide how you react to anything and what you can and can’t do. And do not let anyone else dictate who you are, what you can do, what you believe. Screw that . . . we don’t have time for that, right? And if you feel something strongly . . . if you believe in yourself honestly, that’s all you have to do. You need to work your ass off. Keep fighting for what you believe in.” The audience roared their approval.
The band proceeded to play Platten’s mega-hit “Fight Song,” with Rachel beating on the keyboard in between upward thrusts of her fist. It was a powerful end to a fun and surprisingly intimate performance. The song continues to express a powerful message, especially in light of today’s headlines.
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As good as the two opening performers were, there was no doubt who the audience came to see. Kelly Clarkson is riding high on the release of her latest album, “Meaning of Life.” This was Clarkson’s first album since fulfilling her American Idol contract and she poured her heart and soul into it. It is also her first time in Austin since it’s release. Add to that the intimate setting of the ACL Live at the Moody Theater and you just knew tonight was going to be special.
From the moment she took the stage to “My Life Would Suck Without You,” the audience was with her, singing along and dancing with their hands in the air.
The stage setup was fairly sparse, letting arrays of rear-mounted spotlights create the visual backdrop. Curtains of color pulsated and swayed with the music in a perfectly choreographed dance that created a majestic environment that subtly enhanced Clarkson’s performance.
She was backed by an “insanely talented” 11-piece band that included a three-piece horn section and an incredible trio of background singers that, as Clarkson declared “are better singers than anyone on the radio.” The band was sharp and tight, and yet the playing loose. The music served as the perfect base to allow Kelly’s vocals to soar.
And soar they did. There are few singers out there with the pipes and control of Kelly Clarkson. When you add that certain something called “passion” you get an amazing performance. While she has always sung with passion, it seems to have become much more dominant and unbridled as a result of the new freedom she has found in her latest work.
“I LOVE playing in Texas!” she stated at the end of “Catch My Breath.” “I wore a lone star dress for y’all” she said, modeling her basic black dress bedazzled with a plethora of silver stars. The smile on her face said it all. She is a down-home girl who loves her native state.
Introducing “Love so Soft” as “a little more booty,” the crowd roared their approval as Kelly’s backup singers Jessi Collins, Nicole Hurst, and Bridget Sarai laid down a thick velvety chorus of otherworldly vocals. It was amazing how Clarkson’s voice enhanced the background vocals just as much as hers was lifted by them. It was an incredible auditory experience as Kelly moved from furious soul singing to the choral chant punctuated with the occasional Betty Boop chirp.
Throughout the show she talked to the crowd in a relaxed and unforced way. There is no pretention with Kelly Clarkson. She is who she is and performs because she loves performing. And the audience feels that. They know that this is real and it is a big reason that the new songs resonated so well this evening. Her passion and her emotion is infectious.
This was nowhere more evident than during “Piece by Piece,” off of her 2015 album of the same name. The autobiographical song is about her relationship with her absentee father and she lost it a bit towards the end, wiping away tears. As the last piano notes faded out, the applause was simply amazing. Clarkson shared a piece of herself through that performance. “It doesn’t help singing it in frigging Texas where I grew up!” she stated defiantly, fighting back the obvious emotion. “I’m kinda screwed from the get-go.” She went on to explain ”Sometimes it’s awesome . . . A lot of artists write music cause, you know, its therapy. You’re getting it out. But then you have to sing it all the time. It’s like shit . . . I was a sad little girl! Damn!”
“This next song is happier ‘cuz Christmas is here, so we thought we’d do a Christmas song!” Kelly said. The band members donned Santa hats and some put on white beards as they played “Christmas Eve,” Clarkson’s recently released single. It was a fun change of pace, with Kelly sporting a necklace of Christmas lights.
More hits followed, along with a smattering of new songs, and all were received with the same raucous applause. While introducing “Whole Lotta Woman” off her latest record, she exclaimed, “Oh Lord I am so excited to sing this next one!” She proudly pointed out that the song contained a few “Texas shoutouts” and that she never performed it yet in Texas. The song has that old-time soul music vibe mixed with a bit of 90’s era funk. Kelly had fun with the lyrics and her crack band simply tore it up. Unreal.
She finished her set with a trifecta of big hits – “Stronger,” “Miss Independent” and “Since U Been Gone.”
“Thank you so much for having a good time with us tonight” she said before starting the last song.” I love doing shows in my home!” And Texas loves having her here. Yet another reason for Texans to be proud.
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