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Sara, Plain and Tall

“Breathe Again,” a lesser-known track off Sara Bareilles’s most recent album, manages to aptly describe the best advice to offer attendees of Bareilles concerts. Having had the privilege, for the second time, of seeing and hearing her perform, I found myself desperately trying to remember the order of “inhale, exhale.” From start to finish, Bareilles completely captivated her audience with catchy songs, interactive interludes, and uncontrollable swearing, all the while performing songs about people standing up for themselves and not letting anyone dictate their lives. The excitement (as well as the impatience) of the thousands of fans packed into Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield was palpable as the sound crew finished its pre-show tune-ups and the lights dimmed.

Bareilles emerged from backstage with the introductory song, “Kaleidoscope Heart,” playing over the loudspeaker. She immediately launched into “Uncharted,” the second single from her Grammy-winning album, “Kaleidoscope Heart.” It soon became apparent that playing at a venue in New York was extremely exciting and energizing for Bareilles, a Los Angeles native. In the chorus of “Vegas,” she sang, “I’m gonna move to,” and waited while the entire sold-out crowd yelled, “New York!” From there, the show rollicked along with high-energy renditions of her songs, as well as the occasional comment by Bareilles, explaining the circumstances behind the writing of a song or picking out excited fans from the crowd. Highlights of the show included a quick tribute to the recently deceased Amy Winehouse, in the form of Winehouse’s song, “Valerie,” as well as a tight arrangement of the Mumford & Sons hit, “Little Lion Man.”

Fans were, as was to be expected, most excited by Bareilles’s most popular songs, “Gonna Get Over You,” “Love Song,” and the set-closer, “King of Anything,” which included a fantastic interactive section in which the crowd was split into two in order to sing the vocal parts of the song. The breakdown, aside from bringing the energy level to hysteria, revealed Bareilles’s love for a cappella. Finding her start in UCLA’s mixed group, Awaken, Bareilles is always looking to stay involved in a cappella, recently taking the place of Nicole Scherzinger as the third judge on NBC’s The Sing-Off.

Encouraged by a roar of applause and screaming, Bareilles returned to the stage alone and sang “Gravity” without any musical accompaniment. This was, without any doubt, the most moving four minutes of anyone’s night. No one spoke. Fans even shushed one another when they heard whispering. At the end of the stirring performance, it seemed as though the collective audience remembered to breathe. With the breathing came tumultuous applause, tears, and more screams. Bareilles then introduced a new song, “Beautiful Girl,” to the delight of the crowd. Finally, the opening bands, Raining Jane and Joshua Radin, came out to perform the finale, “Let the Rain.” With three bands performing onstage, one couldn’t help but sing and dance along with the music.

Bareilles is probably seen as a role model for girls (minus the sailor-like swearing) but more than anything else, she comes across as a real person rather than a jaded celebrity. Having met her personally, I am happy to say that she is extremely down to earth about her success and that she feels genuinely excited and blessed to be able to tour and perform for so many people. When meeting fans or hearing about a cappella groups covering her songs, she shows a sort of childish glee, as though she still believes that it’s all just a dream. It’s a welcome change from the way most celebrities interact with fans. Bareilles offers a lot to anyone looking for a fun and still emotion-ridden concert, and she is very receptive to fans who want to meet her. Look for her in NBC’s The Sing-Off, which aired on September 19 at 8:00 PM.