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The Dartmouth
February 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Carlton impresses sparse audience

Vanessa Carlton played last night in Spaulding, in case you weren't aware and didn't notice the "frickin' huge" sign that the singer and pianist referred to in her introduction. The program was a mix of songs from her latest album "Harmonium," new songs she plans on including in her upcoming album and -- of course -- the obligatory "A Thousand Miles" that established the artist's fame.

The predominantly female audience, which included high school and Dartmouth students alike, waited for twenty minutes past the scheduled starting time. One had to wonder whether the delay was intentional in order to fill more seats, since roughly one-third of them were left empty. Unfortunately, the numbers stayed low throughout the evening, with daring smatterings of listeners leaving the room after every few songs.

Finally, Carlton entered the stage in knee-high brown suede boots, jeans and a flowing scarf top, making no comments to begin her program and, instead, just starting off by pounding the chords of "Plastic Love" on her grand piano. The instrument alone sounded beautifully clear, and the abruptness of the concert's beginning provided a theatrical quality to the performance.

The singer made up for her lack of verbal introduction soon after, becoming "gabby" as she admitted in between almost all her subsequent selections. At first her comments seemed gratuitous, such as the laugh-provoking anecdote that one song was "called San Francisco" and that she "wrote it in San Francisco."

However, as she went on, the interludes -- or what the artist likened to "VH1 story-tellers" -- became integral to the program. She told the crowd that the catchy single "Ordinary Day" was a special feat for her because it was one of the first songs that she wrote in one sitting. Carlton's characteristic sweetness and innocence came across well, with the song perhaps more touching live than recorded.

But Carlton's tone shifted suddenly as she announced "Who's to Say" as a song for people in "relationships not approved of either by your mother or the government." At these words, a few women sitting front and center rose and clapped.

Carlton explained that she had toured with Stevie Nicks all summer and was glad to have a crowd here who knew who she was. She rationalized out loud that her label "just really sucked ass" in promoting her latest album.

Several conspicuous parents accompanied their teenagers to the show, and the introductory explanations Carlton began to offer at this point for her songs made the reviewer embarrassed on their behalf.

More vulgarity escaped Carlton's delicate mouth as she launched into the most popular single off the doomed "Harmonium," titled "White Houses." Because the song contained "sex" -- emphatically uttered -- which Carlton said made people surprisingly uncomfortable, MTV censored the song. Carlton received female cheers when she announced that she would give Dartmouth the uncensored version, though that version proved reasonably tame.

Inviting her audience into her "science lab," the pianist tested some of the songs she is currently working on for her upcoming album, as of yet untitled. Carlton's theme of the wounded, innocent sweetheart characterized many of her new tunes, which included "The One," inspired by "someone who didn't know what he was missing."

Many who showed up commented on how personable the singer was. The singer made this impression by wiping her brow in relief after playing the first of her new songs and declaring to her Dartmouth fans that "you live in a utopia; I'm kissing ass but I actually mean it." She continued to amicably free-associate, pausing after part of the piano intro to "The One" and bemoaning the "low jeans fad," commenting about her bodily exposure, "I'm like, 'Do I have crack? Do I have crack?'"

Despite such admissions, Carlton strove for controversy, introducing a song that her "mother wouldn't have approved of" called "Put Your Hands On Me," and then switching to the keyboard to play "C'est la Vie." She explained that the latter song was a result of the one and only time she was ever dumped. Carlton said that the words, to her, meant "f*ck it" in French and were what helped her get through the painful breakup.

Temporarily seated at the keyboard, the audience could better notice that, in the head tilts and deep glances that she choreographed to her music, Carlton sought sympathy not only as the girl suffering in her song but also as the artist disappointed with her apparent lack of popularity. Perhaps it was this moment that inspired Eric Lauritsen '09 to comment that the performance "changed his concept of her."

Before ending her repertoire -- predictably -- with the hit "A Thousand Miles," she complained that she would probably be playing this song "for the rest of her goddamn life."