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When Paula Cole performs, it's part concert, part group meditation. Fans were entranced watching the singer-songwriter croon her poetic, self-revealing lyrics at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts. Between songs, Cole's emotional interludes further connected her and the audience, whom she conversed with from stage and thanked for "this family reunion."

Dressed in a black tank dress over tall zippered boots, the Grammy-winning soprano opened her show by playing a lingering clarinet solo before she delved into the soulful, melancholy "Suwannee Jo" and slowly pumped a steel pedal to back it with a tribal, hypnotic beat.

Guitarist Ben Butler and drummer Ben Whittman added dimension, playing the backup tools with a style as to make the common instruments unrecognizable. In a ten-minute improvisation of the sensual "Feelin' Love" (surprisingly, the top choice of female pole-dancers, Cole prefaced), Butler's guitar solo inspired the audience to erupt in lengthy applause. The jazz-trained Cole accompanied her band on grand piano, pumping through the fiery indie rock of "Mississippi" and playing the delicate melodies of "Me."

Cole is best known for "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" and the Dawson's Creek theme "I Don't Want to Wait," from the feisty album This Fire, so she teased fans by exiting after ten songs, coming back onstage to encore with both hit songs. Cole ended the evening with a cover of "Jolene," which she performs at every show to honor Dolly Parton, breaking into an extended beat-box ending that surprised the audience and brought ecstatic praise from the theater’s 800-seats.

  • Artist: Paula Cole
  • Show date: December 5, 2009
  • Venue: Poway Center for the Performing Arts
  • Seats: B-12
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