The opening act at Saturday night’s Robert Mondavi Summer Music Festival, soulful Indiana balladeer Jon McLaughlin, was so good and so well received, audience members couldn’t help but wonder if headliner Natasha Bedingfield could sustain the musical high.
There was really no need to worry. The U.K. singer/songwriter swept onto the stage in a hail of “Neon Lights” and put the crowd on notice that she was there to deliver a good time. I don’t know who had more fun, the thousand-plus audience or the artist herself.
Throughout the 90-minute songfest, Bedingfield bounced about the stage, played with her hair, tugged at her stylish long indigo and black gown, toyed with her backup musicians, sipped wine and clapped her hands in the air — an animated singing doll, to be sure.
Bedingfield broke onto the scene in 2004 in her adopted England (she was born in New Zealand) with a bevy of uptempo rhythmic pop tunes that included the wildly popular “Unwritten,” the most-played song on radio in 2006 and the third single from her first CD. Actually, “Single” was the artist’s first single but it was the second, “These Words” that introduced her to the U.S. market and, for a time, found a home on the Billboard Top 20.
She offered these songs and one more from that groundbreaking recording — “I Bruise Easily,” a torch song for the 21st century.
Bedingfield writes music because she feels she has something to say. Her reinforcing mantra is: “Get out there and get on with it! That’s a theme to a lot of my songs — taking life, owning it, living it to the max.”
While she performed half of the tunes from her 2010 CD, including the title track, “Strip Me,” the show featured a lot of material the affable blonde bombshell’s written in recent years, including the recent hit, “Pocketful of Sunshine.” But it was Prince’s “Purple Rain” — which saw the singer writhing at the microphone — that proved to be one of the show’s strongest numbers. Backed by a sterling trio — guitarist Luca Campaner, bassist Pete Martin and drummer Chaun Horton — and strong backup vocalist Jess Collins, the headliner showed she’s capable of more than songs that appeal to the young women who make up a significant part of her fan base.
Oh to be sure, “Weightless,” “All I Need” and “Soulmate” were on the bill. But it’s that strong Prince arrangement that’s still ringing in my ears.