It’s only been a few years but the '90s clearly suffered withdrawal symptoms and decided to re-join us. Bomber jackets and bright, multi-patterned shorts came swinging into 2013 all clinging desperately to a dungaree-strap. For music, one of the most beautiful, retro sounds that’s been riding high alongside bountiful critical acclaim is the wonderful Jessie Ware.
Jessie’s R&B style is reminiscent of En Vogue and Toni Braxton, who clogged up tape players over a decade ago, yet it’s also intertwined with a dubby, dance flavour helped along by the likes of producer and DJ Julio Bashmore, amongst others.
Her gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire showcased this gorgeous talent to a sold out crowd; a night boosted by support from Laura Mvula and Lulu James. On the heels of International Women’s Day, these three fearless, evocative and passionate female singers were an absolute treat, and Mvula’s anthemic performance of ‘She’ reverberated around the Empire filling the awe-struck ears of her audience.
Apart from Jessie’s name appearing on the stage backdrop at the same time that Mvula was still belting out her penultimate song, the gig was practically seamless.
Brixton-based Jessie was on the last two nights of a UK tour performing tracks from her 2012 album 'Devotion'. Wearing a high-waisted skirt and black crop top (she pulls off bare tummy very well, this girl), she gregariously greeted her audience with the warmth and honesty of a best mate.
She opened with the synth-rich ‘Still Love Me’ and, whilst sauntering downstage, took brief moments to alluringly tap on the keyboard. After her third song (an expressive and emotional rendition of ‘Night Light’) Jessie told the audience that the first time she went to the Empire as a teenager was to see that bastion of great British boybands, Another Level, much to the amusement of the crowd.
This is the interesting thing about Jessie - with the frankness of Adele she manages to annihilate the awkwardness that often befalls inter-song small talk. Anecdotes are completely natural to her and it’s as if she is everyone’s sister up there, on stage, making them laugh with tales of good luck gems wedged in her underwear.
A trilogy of Julio Bashmore-produced songs delighted the crowd, including the 1970s disco-inspired track ‘Imagine It Was Us’, which she said was written with the DJ only two weeks earlier. ‘Sweet Talk’, the enjoyably saccharine song about being pulled into a toxic love, was introduced to us as the song she wrote with Bashmore over a curry. We all nodded our heads in approval.
A highlight of the night was when the Goldsmiths Vocal Ensemble joined Jessie on stage for a gospel version of ‘No To Love/I Want You’. This surprise followed a performance of ‘Valentine’ for which her drummer threw off his wooden stick-shaped shackles and took the mic for a duet, replacing Sampha who originally sang the supporting role.
In amongst humorous tales of her boyfriend’s baldness, or the time that she came eighth in a singing competition in Blackheath (way behind Florence Welch who had also entered), it was obvious that this girl has not only the raw talent to catapult her past her contemporaries, but also the mettle.
Words by Natasha Culzac
Photos by Rosie Wadey