Berklee Performance Theatre
February 16, 2007
As Paula Cole herself admitted, it has been a long time. Her return to recording and touring has been a slow evolution fueled in part by having a child, and in part by her musical collaboration with Chris Botti, a renowned trumpeter. The jazz influence is obvious in her new songs, but it is also notable that the new music sounds a lot like the Paula Cole some of us remember.
Her last album, Amen, was released in 1999. It was a good collection of songs, but her enthusiasm for recording and touring had waned, and it was pretty evident. With time away, she returns invigorated because, as she says, “music is fun again.” Paula Cole is putting together a full tour to coincide with the release of her next album, Courage, on June 12.
Cole arranged for a hometown performance at the Berklee Performance Theatre, a part of the Berklee College of Music where Cole attended. She was greeted warmly by a mix of friends, fans and college students. Her first tune was an amazing reworking of one of her biggest hits Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? Cole sat alone on stage, at the piano and played a new arrangement of the song. It was breathtaking. She followed by adding drummer Ben Wittman for a roaring version of Mississippi from her album This Fire.
Most of the set stole from This Fire, the one album that made Paula Cole a household name, however briefly – though it is not besides the point that she won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1998. During the two hour set, she addressed the audience openly and often, talking about her experiences in the seven years she was away from the music scene, about her new energy and her musical influences.
The spotlight for the first half of the show was new material. Comin’ Down was a spirtual gospel romp “Lord make me an instrument to sing away the pain, This rushing river, comin’ down.” Easily the highlight of the new material, it could find a home on adult contemporary radio. Love Light (Cardinal) was shining, just a powerful tune that gave way to the high energy of Tiger. Cole then pulled back a chair and delivered the jazz standard My One and Only Love (which she had recorded a version of with Botti) as a soft lullabye.
From that point in the show, she pulled out all the stops. Throwing Stones, one of her angriest, best Fuck You songs (though Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? will always be the best) pulsed through the audience, and she even played a full band version of Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?
Some of her best songs were saved for the encores, including what most people know as the Dawson’s Creek theme song I Don’t Want to Wait and a cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene complete with a three-minute human beat box ending by Cole. She came back on stage for I Am So Ordinary, just her at the piano again – an extra song “for her hometown,” and a fitting to close the show.
Cole’s voice is better than it has ever sounded, and it was always an impressive instrument in its own right. She looked radiant and happy and the performance was as nice a treat for the audience as it was for her. She will launch the Lessons for Life Tour later in the year.
Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? (Piano solo)
Love Light (Cardinal)
My One and Only Love
Hard To Be Soft/Throwing Stones
Hush Hush Hush
Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? (Full band)
Watch the Woman’s Hands
I Don’t Want to Wait
I Am So Ordinary