Sunday, July 29, 2012 | 4:31 p.m.
Kelly Clarkson is a tough act to follow. The pop star has won several Grammy Awards and delivered a decade of hits, and she’s the original “American Idol” champion. And while the Fray certainly contended Friday night at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ Chelsea Ballroom, it was Clarkson who stole the show.
The singer’s 70-minute set was flawlessly entertaining. Clarkson exhibited her versatility as a performer, jumping from ballads to poppy rock tunes while consistently belting top-notch vocals. Her powerhouse voice was impressive during energetic numbers such as “Since U Been Gone” and “Let Me Down” -- and it especially shined during the power ballad “Breakaway.”
Clarkson exhibited terrific showmanship and stage presence. At one point, the singer left the stage, performing while walking through the audience to a podium in the back. The crowd in the back VIP bleachers went wild, with many rushing to the spotlight to get a closer look. Clarkson routinely interacted with her audience -- she joked about her odds in the casino and how she would be avoiding a certain “Wheel of Fortune” slot machine. “I haven’t lost any money yet. That’s a new thing for me!”
Along with her many hits, Clarkson peppered her set with two cover songs. First was Fun.’s chart-topping “We Are Young,” an audience favorite as the majority of the crowd was singing along. Clarkson also performed Britney Spears’ “Everytime,” which was a fan pick -- an element Clarkson said is a part of every concert. “We’ve done everything from Katy Perry to Foo Fighters,” she said.
After finishing her set with “Since U Been Gone,” the audience’s applause ushered Clarkson onstage for a four-song encore -- and she saved the best for last. “Because of You” sounded better than the recording, and fans belted out “Mr. Know It All” and “Miss Independent” with Clarkson. Closing with “Stronger,” she had the crowd on their feet jumping and pumping their fists in the air. As the lights came on, it was easy to see by all of the satisfied looks that Clarkson knows what fans want, and that’s precisely what she gave them.
After a short intermission, the Fray took the stage to much applause. Although a good number of concertgoers had left after Clarkson’s set, a sizeable, devoted group of fans remained. The group’s concert lasted just as long as Clarkson’s and included their hits “I’m Over My Head (Cable Car),” “You Found Me” and “How to Save a Life.”
Many of the tracks sounded identical to their original recordings, which is impressive considering lead singer Isaac Slade’s abundant use of falsetto (especially nice during “Look After You”). Rather than singing along, many concertgoers nodded their heads to the beat and were content with just listening -- until “All At Once,” as the audience jumped, fist pumped and belted out the lyrics during the fan favorite.
The band didn’t communicate much with the crowd, although a roar of applause and cheers met Slade’s “We’re from Colorado” proclamation. There was audience interaction, though; Slade followed Clarkson’s lead at one point, jumping down from the stage to walk among fans to a piano in the back of the venue and stopped sporadically to serenade the audience. He also later dove into the crowd a few times, surfing his way back to the stage.
The band closed the night with their current single “Heartbeat,” and the lights dimmed. Many concertgoers didn’t budge; after more than an hour of the Fray and more than three hours of great music, they just wanted more.
L.A.-based rockers Carolina Liar opening for the two headlining acts. Their set consisted of songs from their debut album, including the hits “Show Me What I’m Looking For” and “I’m Not Over,” and also showcased songs from their sophomore release, “Wild Blessed Freedom,” their first to be released on an indie label.
The group exhibited great chemistry, and all members got to show off their stuff with the many solos during the set (including a killer guitar solo by Rickard Goransson). Goransson and keyboardist Johan Carlsson provided strong backup vocals for frontman Chad Wolf.
There were a few pitch issues, but Carolina Liar still pulled off a strong, devoted performance. The group is really great about interacting with the audience and stayed at their merchandising area after the concert to meet fans and pose for photos.
With Clarkson’s self-empowering pop anthems and the Fray and Carolina Liar’s piano-heavy rock tunes, the bill seems strange. But there is a common thread shared by all three: They love to play music, and they deliver a solid show.