Friday, May 20, 2011

Concert Review | Brooke Fraser at The Blue Note in Columbia


When I first interviewed Brooke Fraser in 2008, talking to her was a joy. She was polite (almost too polite) and she gave thoughtful responses, two things that are far from sure things during interviews. But, as I soon learned, Fraser, the person and the musician, is a different, eloquent breed among her peers.

In her hometown of New Zealand, she's already a superstar. Her first three albums, including 2010's Flags, have gone platinum, and her fan base there is only growing. Yet, in the U.S. she's still seen only moderate success despite writing and recording music that, in my opinion, is accessible to many different tastes.

If anything, this has kept Fraser humble as a growing artist. You could argue that her song "Albertine," with lyrics like "I am responsible" and "faith without deeds is dead," only served to add pressure on her, in the sense that she's an equally important role model, and not just a person who writes songs. Except, I don't think Fraser is wired in a way where she's always looking to prove something.



As I mentioned earlier, there is a certain politeness that surrounds Fraser and everything she stands for, but as a live performer, with her stage banter, she's rather funny. After she walked out by herself and played a solo acoustic "The Thief," which was immediately gorgeous, she was soon joined by her band, a guitarist and drummer, and Fraser used every moment in between songs to chat about being a New Zealander touring in the U.S.

She told us of how her last name is almost never pronounced correctly, that Americans tend to default to "Frazier," like the old television show. "You wouldn't pronounce 'laser' as 'lazier,' would you?" she sheepishly asked us. It was all too charming, and her talkative mood would soon lead into tales about eating at Denny's for the first time (where she ate a Maple Bacon Sundae, which horrified her), to stopping for custard "somewhere in Illinois" (where the custard lady had never heard of New Zealand).

I mention all of this because, let's face it, Fraser's songs are mostly serious, and sometimes heartbreaking. She actually delivered two of her biggest tearjerkers back to back on keyboards, effortlessly singing her way through "Who Are We Fooling?" and "Flags," effectively stealing my heart away with every word. Her set focused on Albertine and Flags, punching the audience with songs like "Betty," "C.S. Lewis Song," "Albertine," and the main-set closing "Something in the Water." Fraser even added a rousing cover of Coldplay's "Violet Hill," which turned out to be a passionate highlight of the evening.

In the encore, Fraser treated us to a tender version of “Sailboats,” which was written for her husband, and the rocking “Coachella,” a song about the California music festival that inspired Fraser to write most of the songs on Flags. As she closed out the night – all smiles, strumming her acoustic – I had to wonder: does Brooke Fraser have any idea how talented she is?

The answer to that, it seems, is irrelevant. Like everything else Fraser is involved with, her work clearly speaks for itself. Yes indeed, faith without deeds is dead.

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