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Kelly Clarkson spunky and solid at sold-out Fox

Photo credit: Harper Smith

Photo credit: Harper Smith

At this point in her career, Kelly Clarkson really has nothing to prove.

 She long ago surpassed the need for “American Idol winner” to preface her name, her five albums have sold about 11 million copies in the U.S. and she’s back at the top of the charts with her latest single, “Stronger” (What Doesn’t Kill You).”

 So it was fitting that her super-sold-out show at the Fox Theatre on Thursday opened with a parade of negative headlines (likely not authentic, but versions of things said about her) about her weight, her singlehood, even her makeup, illuminated on a gauzy curtain shrouding the stage.

 Get it? Clarkson doesn’t have to care what anyone thinks of her anymore.

 It was the first of many self-deprecating jabs made by the powerhouse singer throughout her 90-minute show and a fitting message to complement her opening song, “Dark Side.”

 Looking perfectly cute – and yes, a bit slimmed down – in her black pants, short jacket and flat-ironed hair, Clarkson, 29, wasted no time delving into her numerous hits.

 Though her voice sounded hoarse during the opening third of the show and she went low on the high notes in “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “Since U Been Gone,” Clarkson’s spunk carried her through as she engaged in her patented bounce-and-arm-wave move – and by a few songs into the set, her pipes were at full, clear wail.

 She frequently addressed the crowd with typical unguarded candor, which is a huge part of her charm. When a superstar of her level is on stage talking about being unable to twist her leg during yoga class or lamenting the loss of Whitney Houston by saying, “What a fricken’ talented person,” fans don’t feel in the presence of some untouchable greatness, but, rather, as if they’re hanging out with an old friend.

 Speaking of Houston…throughout Clarkson’s tour, she’s pulled out a favorite cover (Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and Heart’s “What About Love” are recent choices) as a fun side note for the audience.

 But at Thursday’s show, she veered off her usual rock course and decided it was time to pay tribute to Houston and did so with some help from long-ago “Idol” pal Tamyra Gray (if you’re wondering why she’s back in town, my colleague Rodney Ho explains here).

 The pair duetted on “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” accompanied only by a piano and traded gospel-tinged verses like a couple of veterans – the lovely voices of two lovely women on display.

 Clarkson’s affinity for numerous styles of music is also apparent during this tour, as she hopscotched from her own perky pop-rock to Florence + The Machine’s “Heavy in Your Arms” (performed with a snare drummer and standup bassist in a red-hued setting) to country.

 She summoned the spirit of yet another “Idol” – the one who has now surpassed her in U.S. record sales, Carrie Underwood – for a striking cover of “I Know You Won’t.” Only Clarkson could make romantic despondency sound so beautiful.

 A version of her hit duet with Macon native Jason Aldean experienced a technical mishap when the oversized image of the singer beamed on a screen wasn’t quite in sync with the words he was singing (oops). But it was quickly forgotten moments later when Clarkson crooned “Already Gone” over the harmonies of her five-piece band and three backup singers.

 It was an appreciated exhibit of musicianship – as were Clarkson’s effervescent runs through the inspirational “Stronger” and a fun, disco-tinged “My Life Would Suck Without You” – and that time, she hit the high notes.

 In an era of fabricated lip-syncers more concerned with spectacle (hi, Nicki Minaj!), Clarkson’s authenticity remains a beacon.

 Opener Matt Nathanson proved that he’s an affable guy with a knack for double-entre-filled banter and stage moves often reminiscent of Bono. If only his songs were as interesting as U2’s.

 Sure, tunes such as “Modern Love” chug along pleasantly and he and his four-piece band expertly worked a few lines of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” into his “Room at the End of the World.”

 But teaching the crowd basic handclapping to the backdrop of Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” and George Michael’s “Faith” and then segueing into his own “Faster” basically proved that the songs all posses an interchangeable structure. Is that really the best way to sell your music?

 That said, Nathanson does craft some nice phrasing – “you rattle my bones” from “Faster” and “faith and desire and the swing of your hips” in “Come on Get Higher” in particular. But that isn’t enough to make his music memorable.

 By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene blog

Follow me on Twitter @ajclifestyle

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[...] And my colleague Melissa Ruggieri wrote this review. [...]