Local lady Jessie Ware came home to Brixton last week for a pair of sold-out shows at the Academy on Thursday and Friday. Blog contributor Nick Christian reviews one of the gigs for the Blog.
Jessie Ware steps on stage from behind an enormous floor-to-ceiling curtain, her name emblazoned across it in letters eight feet high, as the band plays the first few bars of ‘Running’. She pauses as she approaches the microphone. Whether taken aback or taking it all in, it’s a distinctly humble, human moment – the first of many on a night that cements her status as a star.
Like all the other dates on her tour it’s a sold out show, so the view from the stage can’t be all that different from her gigs in a Manchester, Leeds and Bristol. But she’s a local girl and few other performers to have graced the Academy stage will have spent as much time on the other side of the barriers as Jessie.
This gig is the first time she has been back to Brixton since her second album Tough Love was released in October, and her last appearance was more than two years ago at the Electric. At that time, she had a critically acclaimed debut album, as well as Mercury Prize and Brit Award nominations, but was yet to really reach the big time.
Tonight there can be no doubt that she has.
The finely judged setlist has eleven songs from Tough Love holding hands happily with six of Devotion’s finest. Sultry, slinky tunes sit alongside high energy hits which in turn segue into vocal powerhouse numbers that threaten the Academy’s rafters.
Most songs are flawless performances, every bit as good as the recordings, although a couple are given interesting twists. ‘No to Love’ is stripped down and clad in a lively jazz-funk instrumental, while ‘Pieces’ feels punchier and more optimistic than its recorded counterpart.
Despite her incredible voice Jessie doesn’t show off, using her vocal strength, range and character only insofar as it services the songs themselves. This modesty can be seen as a reflection of who she is, her warm, witty (and occasionally a bit wicked) personality every bit as important to her appeal as the music.
Still, Jessie doesn’t speak to the audience until four songs in, an act that proves more difficult than singing as, smiling but seemingly overwhelmed by the wall of enthusiasm, she struggles to produce the words. In the end her backing band comes to the rescue, firing up their instruments and dragging her into the title track from Tough Love.In an hour and a half it is the only time she falters.
A few songs later Jessie is able to find her speaking voice, asking the audience if there’s anyone outside selling counterfeit tour t-shirts, because “when you’ve got unofficial merch you’ve made it.” Before launching into ‘You & I (Forever)’, a song for her husband, she cheekily admits to being more nervous about tonight’s show than she was on her wedding night. ‘Taking in Water’ is introduced with a emotional dedication to her brother, to whom the song is a tribute and who is somewhere in the upper tier.
The show finishes with the two biggest tracks from each album: ‘Wildest Moments’ and ‘Say You Love Me’. The crowd boos in disappointment when told there will be no encore but joins the chorus in full voice.
Her job done for tonight, as the music slows and fades, Jessie looks out and up at her devoted fans one last time, applauding them right back. Bowie may be Brixton’s favourite musical son but as of tonight, Jessie Ware is definitely daughter number one.
Written by Nick Christian.
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