From the first announcement that Vanessa Carlton would open for the Goo Goo Dolls, question marks were raised faster than light bulbs over Albert Einstein’s head. Although both have a pop quality that gets them played on Top 40 radio, where the Goo Goo Dolls rocks with basic guitar riffs and drum beats, Carlton keys a piano backed by stringed instruments. But don’t be mistaken, on songs like “Unsung” and “Prince” Carlton shows she has some rock and roll in her, but that is more the exception not the rule.
So, fast forward to the day of the show, and Carlton calmly strolls out on a sun-squinting bright stage and seats herself behind a baby grand piano and begins to play soft chords across the ebonies and ivories. All the secretaries and salesmen making in the three-digit figures are at Polaris Amphitheater to rock, at least what they consider rock, and Carlton blasts them in the face with harmonies, melodies and a sound totally unexpected. Most familiar with her hit single “A Thousand Miles” were probably expecting this young girl to come on stage and act pretty and sing and dance and try to become the next Britney Spears. But what they got was a talented teenager who plays her music first and acts the role of a pretty, teen star second.
It was a shame Carlton was playing on a stage in front of thousands, because her talents, and believe me, she is filled with talent, is much more suited for a music hall where the piano sounds can reflect off the ceiling and fill the ears with the wondrous sound only that instrument can make. It was also a shame that Carlton was not able to bring the backing strings with her, as the fill they provide on Carlton’s Be Not Nobody was missed. But Carlton played well beyond her years, and in fact played her first two songs solo without the help of her backing band.
Carlton only had 25 minutes to shine in the already sun-filled sky. But shine she did. She displayed a voice that sounded as refreshing live as it did produced in a studio. In fact, the rawness, intensity and spontaneity of her live showed overshadows her recording. Whether it was playing her hits or playing a song for the first time, which she even admitted she wasn’t sure what the heck the song was about, Carlton proved to Columbus, Ohio that she belonged on stage. But let’s hope that next time Carlton hits the road, she is able to play a venue that suits her sound and allows her to play a set to showcase all her talents. So, sure, the question marks were still there after the show, but the one question answered with a resounding “Yes” was whether or not Carlton was as good live as her CD sounds.