Sara Bareilles is proud to be a New Yorker.
After nearly fifteen years of living in Los Angeles, the 33-year-old singer/songwriter kicked off 2013 by moving across the country. Now an official Manhattanite, Bareilles celebrated next week’s release of her third studio album, The Blessed Unrest (iTunes), by performing an intimate showcase in the city’s trendy McKittrick Hotel this past Wednesday.
But before Bareilles took to the stage at the hotel’s Manderlay Bar, she revisited her theatrical roots by joining the ensemble of Sleep No More, a film noir inspired make-your-own-adventure spin on Macbeth. Playing the part of a nurse, Bareilles had to interact with the (entirely masked) audience members who chose to follow her character’s story line.
“I had to grab people and say ‘It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood,’” she explained to me afterwards about her role. Talk about intense. But if Bareilles was at all nervous about performing in Sleep No More after only two days of rehearsal, it didn’t show at all.
“Does my fucking breath stink?” she asked one of her friends who she was able to recognize within the faceless crowd when the friend offered her a mint. “I mean, of course I never broke character,” the songstress joked.
While the transition from the Eyes Wide Shut-meets-Black Swan world of Sleep No More to the sound of Bareilles’ signature piano pop was a sharp one, it didn’t take long for the audience to become completely immersed in the stunning and confessional tracks from The Blessed Unrest. Plus, the complimentary cocktails (each named after a song on the record) didn’t hurt the crowd from singing along – despite the fact that these were largely brand new songs that most people were hearing for the first time.
The Blessed Unrest is easily Bareilles’ most personal album yet. “This is my darkest hour, a long road has led me out here,” she confesses on one of the record’s many standouts, “Hercules.” And it’s true. Unlike her first two albums, The Blessed Unrest immediately sounds like it was recorded during dark New York winter nights instead of sunny California afternoons.
When introducing the album’s closing song, “December,” the former judge of NBC’s The Sing-Off explained that she wrote the song at a very emotional time. Not only is December Bareilles’ birthday month, but she believes it’s a month that measures time more than any other, offering people the chance to clean their slates and start anew in the new year. Not surprisingly, it was this past December when Bareilles made the resolution to pack her bags and migrate to the Big Apple.
“A winter’s blooming in Los Angeles, the artificial cold is more than I was hoping for, but not enough to consume the darkened state I’m in,” Bareilles vulnerably sang about her decision to change settings.
Keeping with the geographical theme, Bareilles also sang “Manhattan,” another new track found on The Blessed Unrest. A heart-wrenching breakup ballad, the gorgeous bluesy song finds Bareilles sacrificing both the man and city she loves.
What I love about “Manhattan” is that it allows Bareilles to show off her incredible vocal abilities. While she’s easily one of the best singers I’ve ever heard live, Bareilles’ albums don’t always do her remarkable talents justice. Sometimes it sounds like her voice is just too big to be contained onto a recording. And after you’ve heard her sing in person, you’ll never hear her album tracks the same way again. “Manhattan” is the one recording Bareilles has ever done that truly captures the grand scope of her voice the way it comes across in her live performances, making it an immediate must-have track.
“Manhattan” also serves as a fantastic example of Bareilles’ matured songwriting. The imagery she paints is so spectacularly vivid that it’s nearly impossible to listen to the song without feeling like you’re privy to her innermost thoughts and sorrows.
Bringing the audience’s spirits back up, Bareilles sang another new song, the upbeat and charming “I Choose You.” She explained that she was inspired to write the song after she met a fan who wanted to dedicate a song of hers to his wife at their wedding, but was unable to find one that wasn’t “depressing.” As a result, Bareilles wrote what she described as her first true love song.
When Bareilles announced that the next song in her set was The Blessed Unrest’s kick-off single, “Brave,” the audience roared with excitement. Co-written by Jack Antonoff (of the band fun.) and featuring an accompanying music video directed by Rashida Jones (of Parks and Recreation), “Brave” was written for a friend of Bareilles’ who was having a hard time coming out of the closet.
“I think there’s so much honor and integrity and beauty in being able to be who you are,” Bareilles recently told The Advocate about why she wrote the song. “It’s important to be brave because by doing that you also give others permission to do the same.”
“I’ll always internalize it as a real civil rights anthem at a time when there are no civil rights anthems and there’s a giant need for [them],” Antonoff continued to the magazine, which predicted that “Brave” was “destined to become an LGBT anthem for the ages.”
In addition to all of the songs she played from The Blessed Unrest, Bareilles treated fans to previous hits in her repertoire like “Uncharted” and the career-making “Love Song.” To close the show, the songstress channeled another great piano-playing vocalist, Elton John, by singing an entirely flawless cover of the classic “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
With her new album, Bareilles has created a masterpiece. The Blessed Unrest is a combination of mature, honest, and raw songwriting with an experimental pallet of instruments and sounds. This makes it not only her most daring work to date, but also her best.
The Blessed Unrest hits stores tomorrow, July 16th.