Artist: Tracy Chapman

Venue: House of Blues – Boston

Date: 7/31/09

By: Sean Moundas

    Scores of people gathered to hear Ms. Chapman melt their souls on the first US show date of Tracy’s Our Bright Future tour.  A young fan exclaimed, “I can’t believe they are all here for Tracy!”With scant radio play in an over two-decade long career, I was a bit surprised too. So what keeps fans coming (and waiting ““ she was nearly an hour late)?

     First come love and mystery. Chapman opened with Baby Can I Hold You from her eponymous debut, which she sang with passion as though her lover were standing front row center stage. You’re the One for Me, from 2002, uniquely incorporated Chapman’s drum playing and Afro-Caribbean beats. Her voice was particularly haunting, seeming to revive the ghosts of Michael Jackson’s Bad-era inflections. On her new heartfelt ditty, Sing for You, Chapman again made me wonder about the identity of the recipient. Indeed, none of these amorous works contain gender pronouns, and Chapman is generally cagey about her sexuality in press sans a past admission to an affair with author Alice Walker.

    Then there’s faith. Chapman interwove spirituality non-judgmentally on Say Hallelujah and Save Us All.  Ironically during this number, a small but racially-charged altercation broke out among the crowd, resulting in a security call. Were her fans really listening after all? Perhaps this is why Chapman did not mention the recent incident between Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge Police and instead spoke about “wonderful it is to be back in Boston.”


     Nonetheless, there was politics.  Her debut’s Talking about a Revolution and She’s Got Her Ticket were brimming with idealism. However, during  2005’s America, her anger sounded forced and dated, suggesting that the song could have benefited from a post-Bush update.  Chapman also played two new peace songs, Something to See (No War)  and Our Bright Future,  which contained  hints of hope amidst cynicism, especially the latter on which she soothingly wished, “Lead on Lead on/ Clear the path/So our bright future/May come to pass.”


      There were some surprises, too. Chapman performed two covers that really got the crowd moving: the oft-interpreted, Sittin’ on Top of the World, on which she showcased her ability to sing the blues, and an encore of Proud Mary during which Chapman deftly integrated the styles of CCR and Ike and Tina Turner, her smile growing wider with each note.


     As well, Chapman’s instrumentation, especially on guitar, was in good form. Her backing band complemented her seamlessly, especially Dawn Richardson (from 4 Non Blondes) on drums.


     Lastly, she was in touch with her fans’ wants. She effortlessly played 18 songs from varied albums, and while even Chapman may have forgotten about Crossroads and Matters of the Heart, which sent her into commercial exile, she fortunately remembered to play her three hits: Telling Stories, Give Me One Reason and Fast Car. On the latter, when Chapman confidently sang, “And I had a feeling I could be someone,” I think she knew that she has already accomplished that.