Crow lathers it up at HOB


September 21, 2002


While the majority of her well-heeled fans likely feel no remorse whatsoever, California singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow is best viewed as one of rock’s guilty pleasures.

Don’t get me wrong: I love her. But the reasons I cringe when admitting this were apparent when she played an intimate club show Thursday night at the House of Blues, returning to Chicago only a few weeks after her big summer splash at the Tweeter Center.

Both of these shows were corporate-sponsored up the wazoo. Thursday’s was brought to us by a shampoo company, which plastered its name on every available surface, and gave away enough sample packets of its product to cleanse the scalps of an entire small nation.

Sheryl had no problems with this. She even gave them an extra plug onstage, running her fingers through her own long, sun-drenched mane to infer that its sheen was a result of her endorsers (when in fact she probably had a hairdresser back at the hotel).

As she sat before a grand piano during the encore to deliver a melodramatic reading of “Safe & Sound” (another of the many songs that, while written earlier, have taken on new meaning post-9/11), she also took a shot at President Bush for his warmongering against Iraq.

Both her political commentating and her commercial prostituting were delivered with the same sort of obviously fake but nonetheless effective sincerity. One of the reasons I like Crow is because it is impossible to [ital] dislike [ital] her. She may be shallow and superficial, but, as is often the case with great pop music, it’s an ultra-appealing shallowness and superficiality, one that leaves you thinking, “I don’t care whether she means it or not, I can’t help but sing along!”

And sing along the fans did, as Crow and her fantastically tight, polished, and impeccably dressed band of session pros delivered one jangly, hook-filled mini-masterpiece after another: “Steve McQueen,” “Soak Up the Sun,” “C’mon C’mon” (the title track of her recent hit album), “Leaving Las Vegas,” “If It Makes You Happy.”

None of these songs have the deep emotional resonance of an artist like, say, Liz Phair (the Chicago ex-patriate who sang on Crow’s last album), much less a P.J. Harvey or a Sinead O’Connor. Rather than pondering the heartbreak or soul-searching that prompted Crow to write these tunes, as you watch her deliver her flawless vocals and shake her flawless, designer-jeans-clad rump, you think, “Wow, it’s amazing that someone can dance around like that in four-and-a-half inch heels! And isn’t that bared belly button something?!”

None of these songs have an iota of originality, as Crow cheerfully points out with her habit of segueing from one of her tunes into a snippet of an FM-radio classic-rock standard by the likes of Steve Miller or the Who. (She also delivered a complete rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock ’n’ Roll” during the encore, belting it out while standing atop the aforementioned grand piano. To which I can only say: Whooo!)

But none of these songs is anything less than surefire addictive. Originality can be overrated in pop music, a forum where the hook prevails above all else. And in her quest to update the peaceful easy feelings of early ’70s California rock (Eagles, Linda Rondstadt, Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks), Crow ranks right up there with her mentors.

If you have any admiration at all for tuneful jangle, you can’t help but be swept along and seduced by her charms. I was at the House of Blues. But at least I have the decency to feel guilty about it.