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Gavin DeGraw and friends at Crossroads KC: Soulful pop, a dash of tension

The Kansas City Star

Three benign pop artists performed on an appropriately mild evening at Crossroads KC on Wednesday.

An audience of more than 1,000 swooned to the sounds of Gavin DeGraw, Matt Nathanson and Mary Lambert.

DeGraw, an agreeable singer-songwriter from New York, headlined the concert. Rather than recreating the meticulously bland sound of his five studio recordings, DeGraw emphasized his soulful side during a surprisingly muscular outing.

A boisterous rendition of “I Don't Want to Be,” the restrained rock song that introduced DeGraw to listeners of pop and adult contemporary radio in 2004, resembled an inspired jam by the Allman Brothers Band.

DeGraw and his four piece band transformed the recent single “Best I Ever Had” into a convincing slice of Americana and added funky organ flourishes to “We Belong Together.”

While DeGraw isn't in danger of being mistaken for Al Green, his tangy voice and impressive phrasing make him a credible soul singer.

He was less successful when he reverted to his studio persona. The arena rock of “Everything Will Change,” for instance, sounded like second-rate Coldplay.

A meaty rendering of Hall & Oates' “Rich Girl” served as an amusing diversion during DeGraw's set, but cover songs were the highlights of Nathanson's outing. Entertaining interpretations of Iggy Azalea's “Fancy” and James' “Laid” outshone Nathanson's original material.

Nathanson may be a middling songwriter, but he's an outstanding cheerleader. The San Francisco based artist roamed the audience while singing his new single “Headphones,” exchanged amusing banter with fans and successfully compelled the majority of the audience to clap and sing along to his songs.

Lambert is far less comfortable on stage. Her nervous laughter and clumsy patter were extremely awkward. The resident of Seattle openly acknowledged her uneasiness.

“I'm a gay woman and sometimes it's scary to be in a place you don't know,” she said.

Lambert's affiliation with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis jumpstarted her career. She cowrote “Same Love” and sang the hook of the momentous Grammy-nominated song that advocates same-sex marriage. A graceful arrangement of “She Keeps Me Warm,” an expanded version of her contribution to “Same Love,” alerted unsuspecting members of the audience of Lambert's significance.

After Lambert's riveting performance on a selection she described as “a spoken word piece about body image,” Lambert said “thank you for letting me cry at you.”" “Secrets,” the buoyant lead single of her forthcoming debut album, was more in keeping with the mature and gentle pop associated with Nathanson and DeGraw.

Lambert's vulnerability is likely to dwindle as she gains experience.

On Wednesday, however, her anxiety added a welcome dash of tension to an evening of creamy pop.