Better than: Watching the sweetest girl at your high school make it big.
Last night at the Bowery Ballroom, British songstress Jessie Ware played an hour long set to an adoring, well-heeled crowd. Though perfectly professional throughout her set, Ms. Ware seemed taken aback by her fans’ enthusiasm: she frequently backed away from the mic, grinning, as if to say ‘I’m not worthy.’ Her humility seemed sincere, and as such, it was incredibly charming–it would have been very difficult not to come away from the show liking everything about Jessie Ware.
– Q&A with Jessie Ware
Though she was giggly when receiving the heaps of adulation that were continually thrust upon her throughout the night, the soulful Brit was completely in control when actually singing her songs. She was backed by a three-piece band, and controlled many of her set’s sound effects with an MPC below her mic stand. She and her band had great chemistry; she would often hush them with a simple gesture and they were immediately, cheerfully responsive. Her time on stage felt neither too long nor too short; an hour being the perfect amount of time to squeeze in all the requisite cuts from her debut LP Devotion, as well as a couple of choice covers.
Ms. Ware was preceded by Rochelle Jordan, a Toronto R&B singer who was dressed like Erykah Badu’s beatnik cousin, wearing all black with John Lennon sunglasses and a truly massive ‘fro. She won the crowd over immediately by admitting that her hair was making her hot, (this crowd kind of specialized in a rowdy brand of sympathy) and then moved through songs like “Shotgun” and “Protostar” rapidly, accompanied by an MPC player of her own. Though her lyrics were often unintelligible, blending too readily into her musical accompaniment, Ms. Jordan received an especially enthusiastic greeting from a collection of fans near the front. This group helped to keep their peers amped throughout the night and included amongst its ranks a finger-wagging man in a sweater vest and another wearing (no joke) a floor-length bathrobe.
Ms. Ware formed a demure contrast to Ms. Jordan when she emerged around 10:00, wearing a grey jacket with red cuffs, loose grey slacks, an ornate gold necklace and enormous hoop earrings. Her hair was in the elaborate bun that she wore on the cover of Devotion, and though she later admitted that she had been feeling tired, it seemed as if she was raring to go, ripping into the title track of her debut with gusto.
Ware’s studio songs, though incredibly impressive, seem to box her in at times, the intricate, regimented production occasionally cramping her tremendously powerful voice. But she seemed anything but neutered live, cutting loose immediately with vocal ab-libs on “Devotion,” as well as slow burners like “Still Love Me” and “Night Light,” throughout which she bobbed agreeably, smiling any time she wasn’t singing and professing her gratitude to the crowd multiple times.
She ingratiated herself further with a slew of pop culture references, dedicating “Sweet Talk” to Kanye and pregnant Kim, begging the crowd to make sure that “Lena [Dunham] and the girls” attended her next New York concert, and, in the midst of a cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love,” segueing briefly into a segment of “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” and mentioning matter of factly that Aaliyah’s birthday was the day before. She also mentioned her performance on Fallon the night before, revealing that she had “three really big spots that I had to cover up” at which the crowd, apparently familiar with the bane of sudden breakouts, cheered wildly.
Ms. Ware played both of her big songs, “110%” and “Wildest Moments,” but the highlight of her set was a song that she wrote for her brother, the ballad “Taking Water.” She confessed that she had almost left the song off of her album, as it had been recorded so early, but that it was one of the songs of which she’s most proud.
But even that emotional performance didn’t match up to the moment when one Derek charged forward to give Ms. Ware a bouquet of flowers. She was genuinely moved by the gesture, scolding the man in the bathrobe for trying to interrupt “my moment with Derek” and dedicating the song “Something Inside” to her hopeful suitor, even tearing up a bit as she closed the song out. “This is so wicked,” she said. “I love New York.”
Random Notebook Dump: It seems as if Ms. Ware may be on the cusp of becoming something of a gay favorite. The gay couples holding hands in the crowd easily outnumbered their heterosexual counterparts, one of those couples acting as the source of the most worthwhile overheard comment, below.
Overheard: “I just had lunch with a friend and she was telling me about her friend who is Madonna’s assistant. Madonna has two assistants: one is the girlfriend assistant and one is the bitch-who-gets-shit-done. She [the bitch-who-got-shit-done, I think] said it was a pretty fierce experience.”