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Bareilles lifts spirits with catchy melodies

You could argue endlessly about pop music's role in society. But all of us should be able to agree on one thing -- the primary function of a pop song is to make us happy.

Which is why on Sunday evening, as snowflakes the size of silver dollars attempted to turn our seasonal affective disorders into full-blown psychoses, we were lucky that Sara Bareilles was in town.

At her best, the burgeoning piano pop star is a generous provider of bouncy licks and catchy melodies, with a slightly irreverent lyrical approach that makes the whole concoction go down all the easier. And when she took the stage at Canisius College's Koessler Athletic Center, she shared one of those numbers right off the bat -- her latest single, "Uncharted."

Combining a catchy hook based on four mid-range piano chords with sentiments about the fears that come with experiencing something new, the tune is a great example of what makes Bareilles a valuable artist to have around. The cliche I'd usually drop here is "more than the sum of its parts," but "Uncharted" isn't out to be anything more. It's the kind of pleasant, thoroughly unchallenging listening experience to which you can surrender yourself without feeling the least bit corny. If you claim that you never need one of these every once in a while, I leave you to your Rush albums.

Bareilles and her polished four-piece band kept the good vibes going with an energetic cover of Cee-Lo Green's adorably vulgar hit song from last year. This was followed by "Gonna Get Over You," perhaps the best cut off her 2010 album "Kaleidoscope Heart," whose material provided the backbone of the evening's set. All remaining memories of snowfall evaporated.

Things did get a little dreary mid-set, however, as Bareilles slogged through a string of ballads, including the heavy-handed "Hold My Heart" and the wispy "Basket Case." As a vocalist, the artist shined here, showing a range that her poppier material doesn't call for. But her songwriting style just doesn't hold up amid the melodrama of slower tempos and subdued piano chords.

The ship was righted with a hoedown-style cover of Mumford & Sons' "Little Lion Man," with the band huddled together on the right of the stage, all of them harmonizing, most of them stomping.

Then came the coup de grace -- a ragged, electrifying take on Bareilles' 2008 single "Bottle It Up." As the band stretched out the tune's sly R&B groove, Bareilles worked the crowd, jumping off stage, running back to her piano for an impromptu solo, and ending things in big, Beatlesque fashion, her bandmates adding rich harmonies to the tune's "Abbey Road"-ish final lyric -- "Only gonna get what you give away."

It wasn't a momentous occasion, mind you. Just a happy one, and the thousands in attendance were soaking it up like a sunburst.

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