SAN FRANCISCO — Sara Bareilles has long held a tight-knit relationship to San Francisco and Northern California. The Eureka-born singer-songwriter made the Bay Area a natural home as her career developed. Bareilles’ career trajectory can be traced through her past performances here. Travel back to 2007 to the lobby of Rohnert Park’s Double Tree Hotel, where Bareilles appeared for a radio station event not long after her debut smash “Love Song” took to the airwaves. Bareilles was a far cry from the household name she is now, but even then, the bright opening piano notes of her debut anthem stopped passersby in their tracks, either trying to place where they had heard the song or simply taking in Bareilles’ raw talent.
As her steady rise continued, so did her trips back here: among the vineyards of Healdsburg’s C Donatiello Winery, in the underground intimacy of Cafe du Nord or the Fillmore. Saturday she returned again, this time playing the much larger Chase Center, with new album Amidst the Chaos, produced by T Bone Burnett.
Bareilles’ career trajectory is somewhat uncommon in modern music, with so many stars burning bright then fading away, she’s found a way to maintain her steady rise to the top. Bareilles’ tour in support of Amidst the Chaos is her first playing mostly arenas. She’s sold out places like Madison Square Garden. But the Saturday show was special for her.
“This is my hometown show; this is it!” she said early on, expressing her appreciation for her Humboldt County roots. In the truest sense of life imitating art, Bareilles’ show was truly Amidst the Chaos. With the chaos encompassing wildfires, PG&E power outages and national and worldwide political strife, Bareilles took the crowd away from the stress and intensity of the world outside to a celebration of storytelling and song-craft.
Bareilles played quite a bit of material from the new record, opening with haunting layered vocal dynamics of “Fire,” against a deep red backdrop. The arrangements were intimate and spacious, and made the arena feel personal. The singer’s signature wit was on full display with her fun, sarcastic and deadpan banter introducing many of her songs.
“I set the over-under on f-bombs tonight,” she quipped. “If you took the under you’re probably paying up.”
Her natural ability as a storyteller helped frame the context for much of the material. She explained that in the process of writing her latest album, she came to the realization about her love for telling stories through music and lyrics. One story was about how taking a meditation class during a stressful period in her life and how the friendships and people she met through the experience became the basis for “Eyes on You.”
Bareilles mixed her two most successful radio songs: love song “I Choose You” and, well, anti-love anthem “Love Song.” Her stellar band, including a stand-up bassist, singers and a string section, added layers to the material.
On the anthemic “Armor,” Bareilles told a story of being inspired by her participation in the first women’s march in Washington, D.C. alongside both her literal and figurative sisters, which led her to write the song. The performance was fierce and focused, surpassing the album version of the song. Bareilles invited opener Emily King back on stage to perform “If I Can’t Have You,” a track that the two wrote together. The magnetic energy between them was immediately evident in both the performance and in the pair’s highly entreating conversation beforehand.
Bareilles also played four songs from the Tony-nominated soundtrack to the Broadway production of “Waitress,” which she wrote. She prefaced the songs with stories of the origins of her involvement in the production.
The run of songs showcased a wide spectrum of Bareilles’ talents as well as that of her singers. “Soft Place to Land” and “You Matter to Me” were followed up by the bouncy “Bad Idea.” Stunning ballad, “She Used to Mine,” left the room so silent that you could hear a pin drop. And then the crowd gave her an extended standing ovation.
Bareilles simplified “Uncharted” to just a piano and followed it up with a smooth transition to “No Such Thing” and “Satellite Call.” With the balladry out of the way, she encouraged the audience to stand up and join her to dance for her more upbeat trio of hits “King of Anything,” “Brave” and “Let the Rain.”
Following a short break, she returned to perform ballad “Gravity,” still one of the singer’s best songs and most stunning vocal moments both live and on record. The big note at the end of the song’s bridge still brings goosebumps. She closed out her performance with “Saint Honesty.”
Singer-songwriter Emily King, a New Yorker, provided a fun and bouncy opening set. A close friend of the headliner—Bareilles personally introduced her—she was a natural entertainer, mixing soul and ’80s R&B with smooth pop rhythms on songs like “Can’t Hold Me.”