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Sheryl Crow Brought Nostalgia, Novelty To Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Sheryl Crow proved to be in fine voice during a July 3rd performance at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow /Meijer Gardens

Opening for Sheryl Crow on July 3rd, Allison Russell played with a joyfulness that, given her early history, struck me as nothing short of triumphant. Placed into foster care by a mother who suffered schizophrenia and postpartum depression, Russell was later returned to her. When she was five, her adoptive father began to sexually abuse her. At fifteen, she left. Homelessness, however hard, would be better than home.

Her songs don't shy away from that history ("Father used me like a wife," she sang), but they're nevertheless deeply enjoyable. Steeped in American roots music (never mind that she's Canadian), it luxuriated, swinging and grooving, and Russell smiled more often than not. She has a powerful, resonant voice and was anchored by crack instrumentalists, herself not least among them.

A note about live concerts: while seeing them in a crowd can be a joy, it can also be a pain in the ass. Partway through the set, two women settled themselves directly behind me with all the grace and subtlety of the most towering dinosaurs. They exchanged pleasantries at the volume of a Concorde jet breaking the sound barrier, and were soon joined by a man as committed as them to being heard, whether or not he had anything interesting to say.

"PACKIN' 'EM IN, PACKIN' 'EM IN," he said as volunteers helped attendees find space to sit. "THAT GIRL HAS SOME FUNKY-COLORED HAIR," he observed. Three cheers to the woman to my left, who turned around and told them to knock it off. By the time Russell closed with "Nightflyer," she could once again be heard.

Sheryl Crow and band took the stage to The Rolling Stones' "Rip This Joint." Petite and grinning, she wore a simple top, jeans, and sparkling boots, and she launched after a quick wave into "A Change Would Do You Good." She sounded fantastic, as good as she ever had. Three more hits followed: "If It Makes You Happy," "All I Wanna Do," and "My Favorite Mistake."

Radio hits, especially those a couple of decades old, are a double-edged sword: the familiarity can suffuse you with nostalgia, but after a certain point - especially if they're same-y, as some of Crow's songs can be - you can find yourself bored. Fortunately, she threaded in some less familiar songs among the hits: a stomping, bluesy cover of The Rolling Stones' "Live With Me" and her own "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Steve McQueen" (both singles, but not mountain-sized singles).

Occasionally, Crow made references to her age. She joked that one song, released thirty years ago, was written before she was born; at another point, she said she was born in the 1870s. After playing a particularly lively harmonica solo, she clutched her side and yelled, "I'm sixty years old!" Until I double-checked on Wikipedia, I wouldn't have believed her. Her voice sounded as fresh as it did on the studio recordings.

For the encore, she played "Real Gone," a song written for Cars before dueting with Russell on "I Shall Believe": a fitting close. If not a passing of the torch - Crow is too young and too lively for that - it served as a recognition: here, too, was someone making music out of love.


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