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Clarkson downsized but not out

Kelly Clarkson gave over a large portion of her show last night at the Orpheum to her new and much-discussed third album 'My December.' Kelly Clarkson gave over a large portion of her show last night at the Orpheum to her new and much-discussed third album "My December." (Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe)

Kelly Clarkson may have had to downsize her tour ambitions but there was nothing small about her performance at the Orpheum Theatre last night, except maybe the running time.

But when you give as much vocally as the inaugural "American Idol" does - no lip synching, thank you very much - it's easy to understand why she keeps things to a tidy 75-minute running time.

A ball of energy and light with a natural ease on stage, Clarkson was stoked from the first note of the bouncy "One Minute" to the final moment of her monster hit "Since U Been Gone."

A large portion of the show was given over to her new and much-discussed third album "My December." As on the record, some songs were stronger and more convincing than others as Clarkson tries to feel her way toward a more rocking, less bubblegum persona. She succeeded best with tracks such as "How I Feel" that found a muscular yet melodic, pop rock middle ground, more Pat Benatar and Pink, less Evanescence and AC/DC. (Although a collision of that band's "Back in Black" and "Miss Independent" was an interesting experiment.)

If there were Boston fans, who, like Clarkson's label boss Clive Davis, were less enamored of the new album's harder edges and disappointed in the smaller number of hooks to grasp onto, it wasn't evident as they sang along to both the careening, open-wound semi-hit "Never Again" as well as the quieter "Sober."

The only glitch in the proceedings was the volume at which her five piece band and two back-up singers were mixed. At times it felt like the Texas native's voice had to claw through a wall of treble as she belted out the full-band tracks.

That issue was mitigated during a short, not-quite-unplugged middle set. For the family melodrama "Because of You," she was accompanied only by organ and the backing vocals of the heavily female crowd. That was followed by a gritty cover of Patty Griffin's divine gospel powerhouse "Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)," the soul stirring "Thankful," and the tenderly dreamy "Be Still." For a few precious minutes - and in the acoustic encore of the sassy kiss off "Chivas" - Clarkson's vocal nuances, pathos, and strong command of her talents were crystal clear. It made you wonder how satisfying a whole show in this format could be.

Between songs, a gracious and grinning Clarkson joked about the stifling heat in the theatre, proclaimed her love for the Red Sox - donning a cap for the encore - and even thanked people who voted for her on "Idol." Little Miss Independent seems to be doing just fine. Simon Cowell would have been proud.

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Kelly Clarkson At: the Orpheum Theatre last night

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