For the uninitiated, the 75-minute set was an enticing sampler of her formidable skills as a pianist, singer and songwriter.
For the fans, it was a reaffirmation of faith.
Barber, who studied classical piano at UI, doesn't merely play the piano; she attacks it. Her cool, sultry alto is intimate, haunting and tinged with melancholy. As a writer, she is verbally dexterous, reveling in word play, wit, irony and intellect.
Barber did some standards and dallied with rock, mining harmonic gold in the Beatles' "Blackbird" and "Norwegian Wood."
But the bulk of the show was her own work, and the selections illustrated her evolution as a songwriter, from the sardonic "Let It Rain," to the spare poetry of "Pieces" (from "Verse," her most recent CD), to the sly social commentary of her encore, "White World," a not-yet-released piece, part of an eight-song cycle she's doing as a Guggenheim fellow.
Tall, barefoot and clad in black, Barber cut an imposing figure onstage, and she was intriguing to watch. When engrossed in instrumental work, she'd hunch over the keyboard, one ear cocked to the keys, her face crunched, her gaze fixed on the floor.
Barber was generous with her bandmates, giving string bassist Michael Arnapol, drummer Eric Montzka and guitarist Neal Alger many opportunities to shine on their own. As a quartet, the musicians were intuitive and seamless.
Uninhibited as a performer,
Barber seemed ill at ease when the focus was on her and not her music.
She flashed shy grins at the audience but spoke little.