Aversion of Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker” said just about everything anyone needed to know about Sheryl Crow’s major-venue L.A. debut: calculated, insouciant and cold — the result of too many months on the road without time to sit down and write or reflect on what made this artist’s ’93 disc, “Tuesday Night Music Club,” so enticing in the first place.
The audience seemed to sense Crow’s iciness a half-hour into the show, when they seemed en masse to abandon a relative silence and start the usual Friday night House of Blues chit-chat. Crow never appeared to struggle or even seem too concerned in her 90-minute set — she focused on sticking with the program and getting the job done.
Starting with “Can’t Cry Anymore,” Crow rolled through all of the disc’s impressive songs –“Leaving Las Vegas,””Run, Baby, Run,””Strong Enough,””No One Said It Would Be Easy”– with straightforward perfection. She performed with a confused sense of elan, never appearing to emote straight from the heart or willing to tap into a emotional overdrive. At one point she even suggested that at least one song she doesn’t play any more because “I must be happy.” That’s no reason for blandness, though.
Technically, her voice lacked any nuance as she often moved from sultry to a scream with nary a note in between. Not that anyone expects a Mariah Carey out of this folkie-at-heart, but she has proven previously to have a workable range.
Now that she is out of the folk clubs and onto the rock stages, Crow needs to develop a greater awareness of how and what she’s projecting. Friday she often looked down into the microphone and avoided the necessary contact with that last row of spectators. The muddy sound system didn’t help any, particularly when she tossed off one-sentence comments.
Crow and her label, A&M, deserve reams of praise, however, for their perseverance and believing in the material on “Tuesday Night Music Club,” as strong a debut as has been heard this decade. It proves that good music can rise like cream and that even the most minor marketing effort can push a quality commercial disc toward the top of the charts.
This performance shows the dangers of a comfort zone — she has been with these musicians for nearly 1 1/2 years playing the same songs every night — and only on a tune not from the disc did she show off any of the muscularity that she exhibited before the release of “TNMC.”
The microscope is out now for this talented 31-year-old singer-songwriter and there’s no reason to give up hope on her restoring that truthful resonance at the core of her songs. It’s just time for refueling.