Paula Cole – Pure Courage and Power

All I can say is Paula Cole was worth the wait. After a decade of waiting, we got to see her live at the Keswick Theater in Philadelphia the day before we left for our vacation in California. “Wow” seems like an empty sentiment, but it is about the best way I can describe the experience of being totally blown away and awestruck. If you want to see comfortable in your own skin in action, watch this woman do her thing. Her new CD “Courage” is called that for a reason.

After a 7 year hiatus in which Paula Cole left the music business, raised her daughter, and experienced a deep personal journey, she is back. The reception the crowd at the Keswick on September 13th gave her tells it all. We are so amazingly grateful she is back and with us live delivering old and new songs alike in a way that can only be likened to magic. The night was one gigantic exchange of love between audience and artist. More on my experience of the concert in a minute, but first the back story …

You see, there is a back story behind this whole concert. In the mid-90’s when Paula Cole was popping up everywhere due to her exposure with hits like “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Wanna Wait” (which Dawson’s Creek made famous), we were just dying to see her live. My partner Kim was a raving fan since she first heard Paula’s debut album and caught a glimpse of her on the old VH1 special where Melissa Etheridge did duets with up and coming women (Paula Cole, Jewel, Sophie B Hawkins, etc.). If you’re like me you taped that special and watched it over and over and over… At the time, while I liked Paula Cole, there was something about her that made me uncomfortable. Perhaps she was a little unconventional or didn’t look or move like I thought she “should” based on how I experienced the music. Oh how young, naive, and uncomfortable in my own self I was at that time. I needed everything to be in a little box of my liking. (Perhaps that is just part of why I was so miserable in general.) Of course it had nothing to do with Paula’s power, simply my own crazy shadow aspects and preconceived notions run amuck. And, I didn’t have the tools or sense of myself then that I have now, so I just enjoyed the music and let Kim be a raving fan.

Then 1996 hit and “This Fire” came out. Kim had to get that CD ASAP and thank goodness she did. That is the album that broke the floodgates for me. The anger and rage on many of the songs on that album spoke to me. It gave voice to the anger and rage I was feeling in a dead end job with no vision for my life. I was in awe of the music, the lyrics, the power in Paula’s delivery. At the time I was deeply into my own music playing guitar and had my finger on the pulse of concerts and goings on. I got early wind that Paula Cole would be in Philadelphia so Kim and I camped out at the local Ticket master outlet for seats. We scored decent seats and could not wait. Then, out of the blue the concert was canceled and never rescheduled. We were devastated. Call us crazy but this fact seemed to come up regularly over the years especially once Paula went on hiatus. Kim and I would randomly out of the blue look at each other, sigh, say “I guess we really missed our only chance at seeing her, huh?”, get all teary eyed and then console ourselves with a shuffle of her songs played on the stereo and a side of tissues. I’m not really sure what we made that whole lost concert opportunity to mean, but I believe that in some little way we felt we missed the opportunity to see living proof of the power of authenticity and raw emotion in action and some little part of ourselves were incomplete as we yearned to see the magic that meant so much to us on disc brought to life before us. Perhaps we thought it would simply give us hope and affirmation around showing up fully and authentically in the world.

Flash forward to present time 2007. Kim and I are in radically different places in our lives and sense of being-ness. I have continued to listen to Paula’s albums finding new and deeper layer of meanings in the music as the years pass and I evolve. That to me is the mark of true art in music – the ability for it to transcend time and personal life experience and to touch you as if for the first time again and again. Then one day I am listening to WXPN and hear Michaela Majoun play a new track from Paula Cole’s new album due out in June. I just sat at my desk stunned – really? Really? Did I hear that right? Listening to “14” on the radio, I called Kim at work and said “listen! listen!” and put the phone up to the earpiece of my headphones. Of course Kim couldn’t hear a thing but I said “Paula’s BACK”. Cheers of joy all around. Happy synchronicity continued and I got early bird notice that she would be at the Keswick in June the night before we were scheduled to leave for Maine. I got right on it and scored great seats. We were pumped and when the CD showed up in June we just listened over and over to this masterful courageous music.

Then – like a bad re-run, I got an automated message on my cell phone about two weeks before the concert date. “The Paula Cole Concert scheduled for June 30 has been postponed and will be rescheduled in September at a date yet to be determined.” We were crushed and thought what the heck does this mean?!? Time marched on and after my turbulent July we decided to still take our vacation to Northern CA in September. The day before we were going to make our airline reservations I got another automated message on my cell phone – “The Paula Cole Concert has been rescheduled for Thursday, September 13th”. Yeah! So we tweaked our plans and made our reservations for the 14th so we could accommodate the concert. There was no way we were missing this.

Like a fine Cabernet you age for years and then open to find a sublime experience even better than your wildest dreams that is what this concert was like. When Paula hit the stage the place rose to its feet and cheered. What I love most about Paula is her willingness to be vulnerable up there for the whole world to see. The music, this comeback, the tour all feels to me like a raw and vulnerable experience for her. Her almost shy and timid demeanor when she came out said it all. She exuded gratitude for the audience and then launched into “Mississippi” an edgy display of pure power in her voice and the piano keys. While I am sure music execs only see numbers (the theater wasn’t full, but a healthy crowd of raving fans were there), they miss the point. Sure it is a business, but without moments of pure beauty and magic like this evening was, what would be the point? I don’t know what pressures may be on Paula to “prove” herself on this tour from a “fill the room” perspective but she captured it perfectly when she said “who cares if we fill the fucking theater” as she was expressing her love and gratitude for this most warm and engaged audience.

Words cannot do justice to the evening. To say it was worth the long 11 year wait for us would be an understatement. Paula Cole commands that stage and creates a musical experience that is just pure truth and energy. It is totally REAL and it speaks to me at the core. When challenged via one of Pam Slim’s blog posts a few months back to come up with a several word mantra for my business, I instantly knew the answer: “Be Real.” That sums it up for how I want to live my life and how I want to serve others through my work. Imagine what would be possible if we all owned up to being real and showed up comfortable in our own skin, anytime, anywhere? The possibilities are endless… With her heart on her sleeve, Paula took the audience on a ride that ranged from a rageful volcano one minute to soft and tender the next. With a voice that mesmerizes and music that is lush and rich with its dissonance and resolution you feel as if you are as radically alive as humanly possible. Her band is comprised of consummate musicians who really know how to gel and work with the emotion of the moment. On more than one occasion I could feel myself being pulled to the edge of my seat as emotions ran deep, raw, tender, and full of love. Like the rest of the audience, I was sad to see the evening end, but as I walked into the crisp night air, energy just coursed through my veins.

I am truly grateful we got to have this experience and encourage you to check out her tour page. I know I’d be there in a heartbeat again if she comes within striking distance to the Philadelphia area. May we all feel so deeply and give what we’re most meant to share with the world. What a wonderful world that would be.

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