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Concert Reviews and Interviews:  Sheryl Crow/Train/Five for Fighting

2002 JEEP World Outside Tour
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Pavilion
Burgettstown, PA
Friday, August 9, 2002

As day was handed off to night in Western Pennsylvania on a near perfect summer evening, the JEEP World Outside Tour was the setting for a superb five-plus hours of today's most recognizable pop radio rock. This first annual festival is simply a corporate road show promoting new vehicles, outdoor recreation, and, oh yeah…MUSIC!

L.A.-based Five For Fighting, which is essentially singer/songwriter John Ondrasik and random session musicians, were forced through a 30-minute set on an exterior stage outside of the main pavilion because of what I assume was a local, heavily adolescent, Midwest cult following of the band O.A.R. Pity, because for my concert dollar I would have rather seen Ondrasik's Five For Fighting fill the longer time slot on the main stage. But he refused to sulk in the unfortunate. Rather, their abbreviated set was crammed with the six most readily identifiable songs from 2000's America Town record, including the title track, "Easy Tonight" and "Michael Jordan." The small gathering around this makeshift side stage was not short on enthusiasm either, and Ondrasik performed an inspiring, if not giddy, half an hour. He concluded his brief time in the sun with the heart-wrenching piano ballad "Superman," which mesmerized onlookers as it recalled familiar chords from last year's Concert For New York City following September 11th.

By the time Train strolled onto the main stage, the impressively large Post-Gazette Pavilion was nearly full. I got the early sense that Sheryl Crow would have her hands full following up Pat Monahan and Train, as much of this crowd seemed just as interested in seeing the opener as the headliner. Train shot straight into "She's on Fire" from the most recent record, much to the capacity crowd's approval. All the while, Monahan twirled and flaunted across the huge stage like a young ballerina just learning some new moves. It became quickly apparent that these guys were more than just pretty boys posing with instruments; they were highly skilled and right at home on stage, especially guitarist Jimmy Stafford who was flawless throughout. A steadfast diet of tracks from Drops of Jupiter followed, with "It's About You," "Mississippi" and a rambunctious "Respect." Two new songs were debuted, "Lincoln Ave." and "Superstar," and they each sported familiar pop rock flavor. A killer version of Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On" was received as if Train penned it themselves, even to a notably youthful crowd who likely never owned Led Zeppelin II. The hammer was then dropped for the home stretch, as "Free" (from 1998's debut album) gave way to the smash "Drops of Jupiter" before they bowed and walked off. You know the night was going their way when Train was ushered back out for an unprecedented opening act encore! "We hope this song has meant as much to all of you as it has meant to our career," Monahan teased, before storming through a relentless and dead-on cover of Aerosmith's "Dream On."

So Sheryl Crow would have an uphill battle ahead of her to outdo the wildly popular Train set before her. I was sure she would be up for the challenge. Opening with the predictable first cut on the new album and VH-1 hit, "Steve McQueen," a gorgeous Crow appeared decked out in bright blue satin leather hip-hugger pants and a skimpy, Pocahontas-like, spaghetti strap top. At age 40, Crow was looking (to borrow from Donnie Iris) better than a body has the right to! Brandishing her favorite bass guitar, which at times seems larger than her, the road-tested pop rock vixen steered right through a bevy of her most popular anthems. "Everyday is a Winding Road", "My Favorite Mistake" and the new title track "C'mon, C'mon" convinced the crowd that she was aiming to please tonight. The first calming breath was offered a half an hour into the set when Crow offered, "We've been off the radar for a couple years, but now we're gonna go way back," and strummed right into "Leaving Las Vegas." A cameo moment appeared toward song's end with a brief piece of Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" that seemed to fit the summer festival attendees to a tee. 

"I don't know who this song belongs to, but if the shoe fits…" Crow flirted in introducing the hit "Strong Enough," the last of the slower, acoustic moments. The latest album was then represented as expected, but her extensive crop of radio/video hits were never more than a song or two apart. During "A Change Would do You Good," drummer Jim Burgess took the lead mic and ripped through a half-take of The Who's "I Can't Explain," and Crow acknowledged, "That's our little send-out to John Entwhistle!" The regular set began to wind down with raucous versions of "Soak Up the Sun" and "There Goes the Neighborhood," after which the band exited and Sheryl approved, "You DO rock, Pittsburgh!"

A baby Grand piano was rolled out for the encore and Crow was seated to the adoring crowd. "This is a song I wrote about a year before the record came out, but it has new meaning now," she said as the tense "Safe and Sound" was performed. This was one of the defining moments of last fall's TV special, "America: A Tribute To Heroes." The somber, poetic ballad ended and the night's finale was cranked up, a full-throttle run through Led Zeppelin's "Rock And Roll," featuring a barefoot Crow standing atop the piano and modeling her stunning arena rock prowess. The thing that makes Sheryl Crow so special has never been the ability to align her songs with the current Billboard Top 40 landscape, but instead her obvious infatuation with legendary classic rock. For the most part, she's been there and done that, and always looks so damned good in the process! 

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