BERKELEY, Calif. There was something electrifying about the way Tracy Chapman charged into Bob Marley's anthem "Get Up, Stand Up" in response to a standing ovation at the end of her set Wednesday at the Berkeley Community Theater.
Like a pied piper, the earthy Chapman drew the crowd down the aisles to the front of the stage with her powerful vocals and had them dancing and singing with her, "Get up, stand up! ... Stand up for your rights."
The international star's sold-out show ran almost two hours, but her heartfelt, quivering vocals and often biting social commentary were up-front from the start.
She opened with a new song, "Nothing Yet," from her most recent album, Telling Stories. The song featured politically charged lines: "Saddled with bonds/ Broken and in disrepair/ 40 acres to a 40 ounce/ Don't seem fair."
The three-time Grammy Award winner reflected on how comfortable she felt playing in the San Francisco Bay Area. "As some of you know, I'm home right now and very happy to be here," she said. Chapman, a native of Cleveland, has made her home in San Francisco for several years.
"We're at the end of a U.S. tour, heading to parts further north, and then to Europe."
Her apparent sense of ease seemed to put her in the mood for experimenting: "We're going to take a few liberties and play some of these songs in a different way," she told the crowd.
Then she kicked in with a melodic version of "Speak the Word, Love, Love, Love," also from Telling Stories. Her four-piece band, tight all night, took off jamming on this song. Organist Jeff Young added an intriguing gospel sound as Steve Hunter played some bluesy leads and slide guitar.
Throughout the evening, Chapman stuck primarily to her acoustic guitar, complementing the solid rhythm section and singing strong harmonies with various bandmembers. She showed a mastery of subtlety and dynamics as she guided the band through the set's peaks and valleys. Her dreamy, sensitive delivery made for a quieting, soothing respite from today's hectic lifestyles.
Halfway through, her love songs came pouring out, including the pure and lovely "Place in My Heart." She also sang a disturbing yet beautiful a capella solo commenting on domestic violence.
The tempo slowed for these midset songs, but things picked up again with a nice duet with bluesman Corey Harris, who'd opened the show, on the traditional blues number "Sittin' on Top of the World." Chapman's voice was deep, low and bluesy, and Harris hit the high notes above her.
Between songs, the obviously shy headliner took her time, often staying silent for a minute or more, while the audience hooted and clapped in anticipation of her next song.
Well into the performance she picked up her electric guitar and served up some rock songs. The band revved up on an almost psychedelic "Start All Over."
Chapman did her early hit "Fast Car" solo, then followed that with a rousing version of the title song "Telling Stories" (RealAudio excerpt).
On her comeback hit single "Give Me One Reason," from her 1995 New Beginning album, the band played it just like the record the first time. After a pause, they came back to play a funky, more experimental rendition.
A slow, swampy version of the classic blues song "Rollin' and a Tumblin' " followed, demonstrating how soulful Chapman can be on blues.
The audience had been urging her to play her debut hit "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" (RealAudio excerpt) all night, screaming requests between songs.
Finally, she did. The song's message and raw energy marked one of the crescendos of the performance, on a par with the celebration that eventually engulfed the room during the encore.
"She cleans my body of all the day-to-day stress," said a sweating, beaming Kim Franklin, of Oakland, Calif. "It's positive, it's sad, it's happy and it's peace and harmony. "