The Church Of The Redeemer, Toronto - February 27, 2009

JANE STEVENSON, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:40 AM ET

TORONTO - It's not often a live performance can really change your mind about an artist.

But such was the case on Friday night at the Church Of The Redeemer when the gorgeous venue, all shrouded in stained glass and dark wood, hosted a rare pop show by singer-songwriter-pianist Sara Bareilles, who proved to me over the course of her hour-and-15 minute set that I had been very wrong about her.

I had discounted the 29-year-old Eureka, Calif., native earlier this month as just another bouncy mainstream pop star when she was the surprise Grammy nominee in the high-profile song of the year for Love Song - she lost to Coldplay's Viva La Vida. (She also got a second Grammy nomination for best female vocal pop performance but lost to Adele's Chasing Pavements.)

The thing is Love Song, which was prompted by her label's general unhappiness over her songwriting efforts at the time - "I'm not gonna write you a love song 'cause you asked for it," goes the chorus - is hardly her best material but it is openly defiant and indicative of her general sassiness.

And it did enjoy major downloads, radio play and sales and grabbed Bareilles those two Grammy nods, bringing attention to her ironically named second album, 2007's Little Voice, given her powerful pipes in a live setting.

On Friday night, in front of an intimate sold-out crowd, Bareilles proved to be a versatile, strong singer whose clear voice recalled a cross between Paula Cole and Fiona Apple but with a winning personality that displayed a much earthier sense of humor and more relaxed performing style.

For example, the Catholic-raised singer fretted over performing in a church in a little black dress and high heels.

"I'm in church and I'm wearing stripper shoes - I'm going to hell," she joked. "I'm hearing my shoes clicking on the altar."

Bareilles initially appeared by herself on piano singing Undertow and Fairytale, and strapped on a ukulele for the striking new tune, Free Ride, before being joined by three touring musicians on acoustic guitar, drums and standup bass.

She said she was playing small venues on her so-called Gravity Tour in order to come back to where she started.

"I can see everyone's faces," Bareilles beamed happily.

Other standouts proved to be One Sweet Love, Come Round Soon - during which she blasted a blogging reviewer for getting it completely wrong by claiming it was a plea for her absentee father to return to her family, "Come home daddy!" she joked - Vegas, Bottle It Up, Many The Miles and Gravity.

The more she sang, the more I thought she could sing anything: bluegrass, soul, gospel, folk and even rock.

Bareilles recalled her recent Grammy experience, with her mother as her "adorable" date, saying it was "unforgettable. I had the time of my life."

Turns out she was sitting just seven rows from the front of the stage so when U2 opened the Grammy show, she immediately jumped to her feet and found herself the only one standing up in her area.

Not wanting to seem uncool, Bareilles stayed on her feet and when Bono walked towards her, she was sure they had made eye contact and that he would toss his sunglasses to her.

Instead, they went to the two "bee-yatches" behind her.

"I didn't get Bono's sunglasses but I feel we fell in love,"she joked before launching into an effective roots-rock cover of U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.

And that wasn't the only rock song she covered.

Her encore saw opener Tony Lucca (the former All New Mickey Mouse Club perfomer who previously famously dated Felicity star Keri Russell) join her for a sexy duet on Bruce Springsteen's I'm On Fire.

Now all she needs to do is find a producer who can capture her magic as a live performer in the studio on her next album. May we suggest T-Bone Burnett?


Photos