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Saturday, March 24, 2012 - Page updated at 10:30 a.m.

Concert review
Kelly Clarkson keeps it real at ShoWare Center

By Andrew Matson
Special to The Seattle Times

Concert review |

Kelly Clarkson hit the stage Thursday at Kent's ShoWare Center following a string of accusations projected on a curtain: "failure," "fat" and "album leaked again."

"I wrote this song about breaking unhealthy habits and cycles," she said, moving her body in a tight sway to "Because of You."

It was the deepest-cutting song of the night, about recognizing the root cause of one's anxiety and depression. Four thousand people belted the unwieldy chorus: "Because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don't get hurt."

Clarkson, who won the first "American Idol" competition in 2002 on the strength of her powerful soprano voice, has remained the rare adult pop star who — unlike Katy Perry or Ke$ha — doesn't use music to promote the dirty/flirty party life. Instead, she sings about self-love and mental toughness.

Clarkson did danceable pop rock with messages like that for an hour and a half. Completely out of step with mainstream radio/MTV's popular "get wasted" theme, almost every song was about overcoming pathological thought patterns.

Sometimes she was joyous and cathartic, as on her big hit "Since U Been Gone," which she performed early in the set. Often Clarkson's psychoanalysis was bitter, as on "Mr. Know It All," which she introduced by asking, "Hey ladies, ever dated a tool?" She followed it with "Never Again."

Clarkson also did a few covers, which was how we got to know her in the first place ("American Idol" is mostly musicians singing other musicians' tunes). She still excels at that. She did a solid, hard-driving rendition of the Beatles' "Oh! Darling," despite saying she'd never heard the song before last week.

She also covered Florence + the Machine's "Heavy In Your Arms," a favorite of Clarkson's about being a burden. She put realistic emotion behind the line "my love is an iron ball."

To her credit, Clarkson never sounded whiny or preachy or overly negative during the whole concert, despite playing so many songs that were un-fun if you thought about them.

She left the crowd with "My Life Would Suck Without You," a song about being upfront with your partner concerning your own emotional issues — keeping it real to the end.

Andrew Matson blogs about music at www.seattletimes.com/matsononmusic. Reach him at matsononmusic@gmail.com

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