Colbie Caillat just may be the people’s pop princess. With her sweet, unassuming stage presence, the 22-year-old Malibu native looked like any of the 500 attendees packed into the rustic Malibu Inn for her sold-out show on Friday night. In fact, Caillat was more casual than her stylishly clad female fans. Wearing a vivid halter dress and an orchid in her long hair, she looked as if she’d strolled in off the beach.
But Caillat is clearly something special in the eyes of her contemporaries. They made her an Internet sensation last year after she posted her song “Bubbly” on MySpace. Within a month, she had amassed more than 6,000 MySpace “friends” and Rolling Stone feted her as a promising unsigned artist. Within four months, her songs reportedly had logged more than 10 million hits. In July, her Universal Records debut album, “Coco,” debuted at No. 5 on the national sales chart.
It’s been a whirlwind ascension. So it’s understandable if Caillat’s 75-minute set lacked the flash of soul-pop divas such as Norah Jones and Lauryn Hill, whom she emulates. Only last year, she worked in a tanning salon and, hence, hasn’t had the chance to gain much performance experience. She does have a noteworthy musical pedigree. Her father is Ken Caillat, who engineered and produced Fleetwood Mac’s blockbuster albums “Rumours” and “Tusk.”
But it’s hard to imagine her young audience caring much about rock’s past, and they seem all the more charmed by Caillat’s lack of polish. When she introduced “One Fine Wire” with the admission that it was about trying to overcome her stage fright, they cheered her throughout the jaunty pop song, with its sparkling, almost scatted vocals.
Caillat writes her own material, with help from Jason Reeves and producer Mikal Blue, and is backed by a competent pop-rock quintet. She clearly has a knack for ebullient vocal hooks that inspire listeners to sing along. Her fans happily joined in for standouts including “Tailor Made,” a pretty number with a country twang and nimble guitar solo, and “Tied Down,” with its easy reggae swing and ukulele accents. Her breakout hit, “Bubbly,” is still a fan favorite and for good reason. It’s endearing and a little silly, a song that makes people feel good when they sing it.
Caillat has developed her voice since recording her album. And she has a strong, winning delivery all the more impressive for avoiding the Whitney Houston-style gospel-pop affectations favored by many young singers. But she could sometimes use fresher arrangements. Numbers such as the non-album track “Dreams Collide” were somewhat generic. The audience seemed to agree, talking loudly during a few songs.
Even so, everyone clearly enjoyed her show’s earnest charm. If Caillat wants it as badly as her fans want her to have it, she could have quite a career.