“Easy to Love!” Paula Cole and Sophie B. Hawkins LIVE! at SOPAC
Inside South Orange, NJ’s SOPAC auditorium this Thursday, November 10, 2022 evening, the crowd cheers as Executive Director Stephen Beaudoin welcomes the audience announcing, “Paula Cole and Sophie B. Hawkins are in the house tonight!”
Lights dim as drummer Katie Marie Richards and keyboardist Seth Glier take the stage. The audience applauds as Sophie B Hawkins enters clad in a black glittery shirt. Greeting concertgoers with “Hello, New Jersey!” she gets the crowd clapping along to the funky R&B-infused rhythm of “Mysteries We Understand.”
In her light, breathy voice, Hawkins sings, “Oh, angel it’s understood/What we could do together’s every bit much better than good” before playing a djembe drum on the song’s rhythmic instrumental break.
The crowd cheers, and Hawkins responds, “Thank you so much. We’re so happy to be here!” as Richards’ drums kick off the rhythmic soul ballad, “Before I Walk on Fire.” Its hypnotic march-like beat propels the song forward as Glier adds keyboard pad sounds and Hawkins accompanies herself on acoustic guitar.
Glier and Richards add backup vocals and Hawkins ad libs over her colleagues’ voices before concluding with an energetic jump on the song’s final chord.
Richards switches over to acoustic guitar and strums along to Glier’s gentle keyboard playing while Hawkins sings from her heart on her 1995 hit, “As I Lay Me Down.”
Three-part harmonies ring out on this rhythmic ballad before Hawkins holds out the mic so the audience can sing along on the number’s well-known “Now as I lay me down to sleep/This I pray/That you will hold me dear” refrain. Kneeling, Hawkins takes the audience to church as she sings a bluesy ad lib which elicits enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
Hawkins plays the acoustic guitar intro to “Right Beside You” on a disco-inspired arrangement which features Glier providing a mystical-sounding keyboard accompaniment and Richards playing her drum kit with mallets. Mid-song, Hawkins raps, “Driving into town with the top down/Sun sinking low into the water I can feel your speed/One hand on the wheel one hand on my knee,” as music lovers’ heads bop in the audience.
After introducing her musical colleagues, Hawkins tells the audience that the first time she met musician Seth Glier was the day the pair made the “kitchen demo video” of her song, “Love Yourself.” Revealing that “a new, slicker video is coming out tomorrow,” Hawkins and Co. launch into a live rendition of the soulful rocker which has the entire audience singing along on the catchy “Oh, baby, love yourself/Ain’t nobody else/Gonna make you feel whole” refrain.
Hawkins takes a seat at the grand piano telling the crowd that she loves how her sparkly shirt reflects off the instrument’s shiny veneer, declaring, “I love glitter — especially how you find it everywhere after you’ve used it!” Here, she launches into “I Only Hunger for Love,” a folk-rocker from her upcoming album which features three-part vocal harmonies and a rhythmic accompaniment. Acknowledging, “It’s my first breakup song ever,” Hawkins explains, “I’m so happy about that. It’s proof of love and change,” before declaring, “Bring on all the breakup songs. They aren’t sad, they’re happy!”
Glier plays electric guitar, Richards plays drums, and Hawkins plays piano on the straight-ahead rocker, “I’m Better Off Without You,” before she’s featured on the djembe drum.
Concertgoers whoop their approval as Hawkins performs a Latin-influenced solo, dancing while she plays, energetic and free. At the conclusion, the crowd hoots and hollers as Hawkins remarks, “Dancing is so important! People don’t generally break out into dance like I do, to the point where my kids say, ‘Mom, stop!’”
Hawkins takes a seat on a stool and accompanies herself on banjo on the country-influenced “Lose Your Way.” Her soft, sweet voice floats out over the audience before Glier is featured playing a cascading jazzy keyboard solo.
Music lovers cheer as they recognize the introduction to “No Connection.” Hawkins plays acoustic guitar on this bouncy pop tune which is accompanied by African-influenced rhythms before shaking off her instrument and getting down on her knees to sing with passion and feeling.
Lamenting, “It’s sad when we get to the end of a concert,” Hawkins announces, “This is a new song which I wrote when my daughter, Esther, was born.” On “You Are My Balloon” Glier plays descending chords on the piano as Hawkins sings with emotion, “You won’t need me long/But I’ll hold on/Because you are my balloon.” Standing center stage and pantomiming holding the string of a balloon, Hawkins sings this tender song with a mother’s love in her voice before letting it go at the end of her touching performance.
The crowd cheers, and Hawkins exclaims, “I love you for coming out tonight. I would be nothing without you!” As Glier and Richards play the intro to Hawkins’ 1992 single, “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” Hawkins dances in a circle to the funky drum and keyboard accompaniment. Singing, “Damn, I wish I was your lover/I’ll rock you till the daylight comes,” the crowd cheers as Hawkins holds out a long note before continuing with a soft bluesy vocal that crescendoes with three-part harmony. Audience members sing along with Hawkins’ encouragement before she concludes with a celebratory dance a la Tina Turner, shaking her booty at the end to hoots, hollers, and applause.
“Thank you so much!” exclaims Hawkins as music lovers stand and clap while Hawkins and Co. sing an a cappella reprise of “Love Yourself” prior to bowing and exiting.
During intermission, we chat with several audience members who share their opinions of Sophie B. Hawkins’ performance tonight. Explains Donna from Caldwell, “I loved Sophie in the ’90s when ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’ was my favorite song and, after tonight, I love her music all over again!” Susan from South Orange agrees, adding, “I loved Sophie’s new songs, especially ‘You Are My Balloon.’ It was really quite moving the way she performed it with the pantomime.”
Ann-Marie from South Orange declares, “I love Sophie B. Hawkins’ personality! She’s light, fun, and engaging, and I love her free spirit. I especially liked hearing ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,’ which I used to listen to all the time in the car.” Her friend, Erin from South Orange, confesses, “Before tonight, I had never heard of Sophie B. Hawkins, but she is super talented. I thought she was great — super fun and highly energetic — and her song, ‘As I Lay Me Down,’ is a fantastic song!”
Lastly, we chat with three friends from the Bronx, NY. Whereas Anthony calls Sophie B. Hawkins’ performance tonight “Great!” and his friend, Steven, comments, “She has a fantastic personality and stage presence,” their buddy, Vincent, acknowledges, “I’m really here tonight for Paula Cole — she’s a musical genius — but I enjoyed Sophie B. Hawkins, too. She’s super energetic and a lot of fun, and her music and personality are definitely infectious!”
Following intermission, bassist Ross Gallagher and guitarist Chris Bruce take the stage and start to play as Paula Cole enters, waves to the crowd, and takes a seat at the grand piano while a fan in the audience yells out, “We love you, Paula!”
Opening with a reimagined arrangement of “Me,” Cole’s clear soulful voice cries out over the acoustic instruments as she sings, “And it is me who is my enemy/Me who beats me up/Me who makes the monsters.”
With the arrangement’s soft groove running under her rich voice, Cole invites the audience to sing the chorus as she vocally ad libs, eliciting enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
After introducing her bandmates, Cole explains that she was “a very good girl in Massachusetts growing up” but “was full of piss and vinegar once I moved to New York — which is where this next song comes from.” Launching into “Tiger,” Cole cries, “I’ve left Bethlehem/I feel free/I’ve left the girl I was supposed to be.” Accompanied by piano, electric guitar, and bass, Cole’s rhythmic vocal leaps directly from the stage to audience members’ ears.
Cole tells the crowd about writing her newest composition with Grammy-winning songwriters Jason Isbell and Paul White. Here, Gallagher and Cole sing harmony on the sweet folk ballad, “Mother, Son and Holy Ghost,” which features sparse accompaniment before concluding like a beautiful prayer.
Cole invites Vincent, a friend seated in the audience, to join her in singing “Hush, Hush, Hush,” a song written about a friend who died during the AIDS epidemic. On this haunting ballad, Cole plays grand piano and trades off verses with Vincent before they sing the “Hush, hush, hush/Says your daddy’s touch” chorus and warmly hug at the end.
Ross Gallagher solos low and booming on his bass, bending his strings on the introduction to “Carmen.” As he adds vocal harmonies, Cole sings, “Carmen/I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, if I can go back,” while Chris Bruce gently strums his electric guitar to the slow groove.
Music lovers clap along as Gallagher and Bruce play the intro to a reimagined arrangement of Cole’s 1997 Top Ten hit, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone.” Her voice floating above the instruments with feeling and style brings cries of delight from fans before Cole intentionally changes the song’s “I will wash the dishes while you go have a beer” lyric to “You go wash the dishes while I go have a beer.”
After asking audience members to snap their fingers to their next selection, Cole and Co. launch into “Feelin’ Love” where Cole breathily whispers, “You make me feel like a sticky pistil/Leaning into a stamen” on this steamy rocker. Showcasing her versatility as she sings, her vocal creates a lovely tension with the instruments that the audience can see, hear, and feel.
The crowd cheers, and Cole responds, “Oh, my goodness — you are so beautiful! Thank you for supporting live music!” Advising, “Take solace in music, and be better than the generations before,” Cole invites the audience to sing along on her 1997 Top 20 hit, “I Don’t Want to Wait.” Dynamic acoustic guitar, bass, and grand piano accompany Paula as she and her collegues sing together on the song’s well known “I don’t want to to wait for our lives to be over/I want to know right now what will it be” chorus.
After leading the crowd on the song’s “Doo-doo doo-doo-doo” background line, Cole bows and exits as concertgoers stand and cheer until she returns.
Cole announces, “This song goes out to Miss Dolly Parton because I love her so much!” Bruce plays a twangy hammer-on acoustic guitar riff that Gallagher joins in on with his bass on “Jolene.” Cole stands center stage passionately singing, “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/I’m beggin’ of you, please don’t take my man,” making the song her own with her riveting performance filled with nuance and feeling. Cole dances to Bruce’s chordal guitar solo before beatboxing to the rhythm, adding yet another dimension to this innovative arrangement that fills the theater with a unique groove. At the end, the crowd appreciatively hoots and hollers for Cole and her colleagues.
“Thanks, SOPAC — thank you so much!” exclaims Cole, bowing to the standing crowd while audience members continue to whistle and cheer.
As concertgoers make their way out of the SOPAC auditorium, we chat with several who share their opinions of Paula Cole’s performance tonight. Exclaims Joyce from New York City, “Paula Cole is the most amazing singer! Her voice is incredible and she looks beautiful, too. She’s so caring and kind, and I just loved seeing her in this venue,” before adding, “I also loved ‘Jolene’ — and Paula’s beatboxing at the end was a real surprise!” Natalie from Jersey City agrees, asserting, “This concert was exactly what we all needed right now. I loved all the different colors and textures she brought to the music,” prior to acknowledging, “I could just listen to her all day long.”
Exclaims Francesco from Bloomfield, “Paula Cole is just amazing! This is my sixth time seeing her and she’s super-talented. Tonight, she gave us several of her hits reimagined, and I especially loved how she and her band performed ‘Where Did All the Cowboys Go’” before suggesting, “Paula Cole is one of the most underrated female singers out there — she should be considered on the same level as Stevie Nicks.”
Stacey from Princeton remarks, “Paula Cole is the personification of a goddess. She’s strong, female, and powerful yet tender — in addition to having a lot of heart and soul. I’ve listened to her for years and she’s just amazing.” Noting, “I liked when she invited the crowd to sing with her — you can tell she really appreciates her audience,” Stacey argues, “The range and power of her voice are just unbelievable! Recordings just can’t capture what listeners can experience hearing her live and absorbing her energy.”
Lastly, Sari from South Orange confesses, “Before tonight, I was only familiar with Paula Cole’s biggest hits, so I never realized what a versatile and talented singer she is. Listening to each of her songs is like experiencing a master class in vocal performance.” Continuing, “Paula really connects with her audience, as does Sophie B. Hawkins,” Sari adds, “Between Paula and her world-class voice and Sophie and her sparkling personality, this was one great show,” prior to concluding, “For me, they’re both really easy to love!”
To learn more about Paula Cole, please go to paulacole.com. For more info on Sophie B. Hawkins, please click on sophiebhawkins.com. For further information on upcoming shows at SOPAC — including Judy Collins on Dec. 2, A Rockapella Holiday on Dec. 9, and Sweet Honey in the Rock on Dec. 19 — please click on sopacnow.org.