Crow delivers perfect folksy bluegrass

Nine-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow performed at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa Wednesday evening, treating a near-sold out crowd to 80 minutes in folk-rock heaven.

Opening act Honey Honey — a cross between KT Tunstall, the Civil Wars, and Mumford and Sons — set the tone with their bluegrass-inspired tunes.

Crow performed with feeling and vitality.

She sang beautiful and moving renditions of all the favorites: "All I Wanna Do," "Leaving Las Vegas," "My Favorite Mistake," "The First Cut is the Deepest," a cover of Cat Stevens's song, "Strong Enough," "Soak up the Sun," "Everyday Is A Winding Road," "Can't Cry Anymore" and "Real Gone," which is featured on the "Cars" soundtrack.

Later in the evening, she brought out longtime friend and Southern California-based songwriter Jeff Trott, who joined her on guitar for "If It Makes You Happy," one of the many hits they wrote together.

Occasionally, Crow threw in a few obscure pieces like "Home" and "Members Only," which she wrote about Saddam Hussein launching missiles at New York, according to an earlier performance.

Also included was "Best of Times," about the supposed end of the world in December, off her soon-to-be-released and yet-to-be-named album.

"God knows when it's gonna come out," Crow said. "I am gonna wrestle that mother to the floor and then I'm going to get a record deal."

The tune was undeniably rooted in bluegrass and acoustic folk music. Her Motown influences, such as the Jackson Five, Al Green, Sly and the Family Stone, and Stevie Wonder, were also apparent in the writing.

The latter is no surprise considering Crow first reached the spotlight as a back-up singer with Michael Jackson.

But after Crow played the new song in between two hits, it was obvious the writing could not measure up to the memorable melodies found in her best-sellers.

Through it all, Crow maintained her signature sound. Her voice was surprisingly agile for a singer-songwriter, usually known for enigmatic, pleasantly imperfect voices, but not necessarily for technique. Although Crow's vocals tend to be laid-back, she chose her powerful, bluesy moments wisely.

Those few impressive, gritty licks showcased the ping in her upper register. However, a good portion of her songs rested in the lower register, which was muddy sounding in the monitors, while the harmonica playing was piercing.

Crow took some improvisational liberties, which the audience accepted. But still, some nuances were left out and weak parts of her register were exposed as vocal fatigue set in — most notably in "Soak up the Sun."

Fatigue is understandable, considering Crow sang almost the whole time and spoke very little.

When she did speak, she was warm and inviting. She made her performance personal, interacting with the audience and sharing things about her own life.

When she's not on the road, Crow resides in Nashville with her two children, ages 2 and 5. Her kids don't know what she does and they don't care, she said.

In fact, the family took a trip to Disneyland before the concert.

"You think the Sheryl Crow tour is all sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll right?" she joked. "It's more like bottles, diapers and wiping snot."

She gained more of a rapport with the audience when she got out from behind her instruments (guitar, keyboard and harmonica), and started clapping her hands and dancing around the stage.

Crow is the ultimate female front woman, a true show woman, and skilled musician.

Throughout the set, she closely communicated with her seasoned, five-piece band. She was not her own separate entity, but one of the boys.

Crow also gave band members their own spotlight, as she stepped back and became a part of the band.

Memorable moments from band members included keyboard and B3 organ solos by Josh Grange, gritty guitar solos by Peter Stroud, and others during the encore.

Crow will be making 11 more stops all over America, and in Canada in support of her new album. Her next local show is July 27 at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay in San Diego.

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