Review: Sheryl Crow at Chumash Casino

September 19, 2010


Sheryl Crow reminds me of Neil Young, in the sense that the reigning queen of rock bends and challenges musical genres every time she steps into the studio.  While this shows lots of creative moxie, it doesn’t always translate to her live performances.

That was apparent early on at the Samala Showroom, a cozy 1,400-seat venue at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez that consistently brings the best big-name talent to the Central Coast year round. Looking more like a Vegas lounge singer than rocker chick in her high heels and frilly blouse, Crow struggled to find her stride, clumsily mixing new songs with old staples such as ‘Change Will Do You Good’, ‘Can’t Cry Anymore’ and ‘Strong Enough’.

But it wasn’t for lack of trying. After all, you don’t bring an 11-piece band on the road if your goal isn’t some serious sonic pleasure. However, the audience didn’t help either, staying seated despite Crow’s pleas to clap and dance. With a large security force that resembled the Mossad keeping the peace, maybe they were feeling a little tentative.

Turns out, it was a focus on Crow’s new album, 100 Miles from Memphis and its catchy ‘Summer Day’ and title track that seemed to get the band, Crow and the crowd out of their collective funk. Except for ‘Day’, it’s a rootsier departure from previous poppy songwriting that meshed perfectly with the horns and harmony singers that Crow has added for this tour. While she is certainly an accomplished musician, this allowed Crow to focus more on singing and dancing.

These new songs set up the payoff concertgoers were looking for: familiar hit tracks like ‘My Favorite Mistake’ and ‘Everyday is a Winding Road’. Lead guitarist Chris Bruce, who looks like Prince and plays like Hendrix, nearly stole the show with an amazing solo on ‘Long Road Home’. It seemed to wail and reverberate through the theater walls into the entire casino, likely shaking up even the most seasoned gamblers.

At this late point in the show, security pulled the ropes at the front, allowing concertgoers to rush the stage and get a close up with their idol. Crow brings out a nice mix of young and old fans but it was mostly the younger females who took advantage. This is a nice touch by the Chumash staff, a regular one that somewhat alleviates the inhibitions you feel from the lack of alcohol and tight seating. Still, the Samala remains a gem in a less than stellar, albeit improving, Central Coast concert scene.

Soon, Crow and her band had the crowd whipped into a frenzy as they dove into spirited renditions of ‘If it Makes You Happy’ and ‘Soak up the Sun’. Always smiling and engaging, the singer/songwriter seemed genuinely pleased by the cheers and overall adulation. Leaving the stage a la Elvis as the band played on, Crow soon returned to sing her signature ‘All I Wanna Do’ with a unique arrangement that probably keeps her from sleepwalking through that one.

But it didn’t matter: the audience was hooked by now. Expecting her to depart after the big hit, Crow surprised everyone by singing the Jackson 5 classic  ‘I Want You Back’. Then she moved to a piano that seemed to magically appear, serenading everyone with a passionate ‘I Shall Believe’, a forgotten classic from her first album that seemed to awe the band as well as the crowd.

By the end of the 2-hour plus concert, we all did. In Crow that is.