Hearing Tracy Chapman sing live is one of those unique touching experiences that is increasingly rare at concerts these days. Despite her incredible longevity and global fame, she’s an artist who keeps a remarkably low profile, shying away from media attention and preferring instead to let her music speak for itself. And at this closing night of her first UK tour in years, she demonstrated the true power of raw, genuine talent, reminding us what music is really about. Whilst many in today’s industry get sucked in by the seductive bling bling culture and pay as much mind to their image as they do to their actual craft, Chapman is all about the music. Her socially and politically conscious song-writing is as apparent in her new material as it’s always been, with latest track ‘America’ sitting comfortably with previous offerings such as ‘Why’, which she opened with. Classics like ‘Fast Car’ from her iconic first album were performed alongside her new material, such as the powerful ‘Change’, with each song delivered with so much honesty and soul, making for a very intimate atmosphere despite the huge venue.
Chapman first shot to fame overnight in 1988, as a result of playing at Nelson Mandela’s birthday gig, which was televised worldwide. She then went on to record seven studio albums and pick up several Grammy’s in her 18 year career. But the star is almost the antithesis of a diva, dressing down in jeans for her show and often hiding behind her long dreads whilst addressing the audience, especially when timidly introducing her newest tracks. But as soon as her voice took over and she began skillfully playing those signature tunes on her guitar, the crowd was totally mesmerized. The packed out Brighton Centre, with people of all ages and nationalities, was a tribute to her wide appeal. She dedicated the timeless ‘Baby Can I Hold You’ to a couple in the audience who had just got married, by leaving a box in the foyer so fans could post their requests for personal dedications as they walked in. She also burst into a haunting version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’, with the New Orleans lyrics delivered in her poignant manner completely gripping the crowd. But the highlight was saved until last. Although often overshadowed by ‘Fast Car’, ‘Talkin’ Bout a Revolution’ is the song which will always set her apart as a true, if unassuming, icon. And judging by her enigmatic performance of it tonight, Chapman’s message still carries the same charge as her debut all those years ago.
By Anna Nathanson