Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013
Better than: A good portion of the soul music we lazy Americans make these days.
So: for like the billionth time, the British are coming, enacting step No. 9,384 in their dastardly plan to sell all our own exports back to us. Most recently, the last decade has seen a striking progression of female soul-inspired singers, from the late Amy Winehouse and expert award recipient Adele to Estelle and Florence and the Machine. These ladies have been marching into our YouTube search boxes with serial precision, each proffering the newest iteration of blue-eyed British soul back to the country that inspired the genre. Theirs is a reflected sound, sure, but every single one of the aforementioned artists can sing the lights out.
The next entrant in the queue may very well be South Londoner Jessie Ware, and if so, she could greatly alter our understanding of the British neo-soul diva. An adherent of Britain's downtempo movement, Ware first appeared on the radar as a guest vocalist on SBTRKT's single "Nervous" in 2010. She released her debut full-length Devotion last year, a hazy affair that owes more to the likes of Sade and the Quiet Storm than to Adele's Queen of Soul histrionics. Critically lauded, the record landed at No. 30 on the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll despite lacking a proper American release.
The groundswell of attention for Ware landed her a gig at last night's Popscene, still the grand dame of San Francisco tastemaking club nights. Ware's still flying under the radar in the States, so she's been playing smaller venues like the Rickshaw Stop, but she's been selling the crap out of every stop on the tour. (This show sold out, like, five minutes after tickets went on sale). Her fanbase over here is small but ravenous, her image a dark side of Adele's Mad Men-esque nostalgia. A picture of retro-futuristic elegance, Ware frequently rocks power blouses and a flipped back 'do straight outta Boardwalk Empire, affecting a sort of Grace-Jones-For-The-Indoor-Kids vibe.
Kicking off with the moody minor-key swirl of "Devotion" and the languid "Still Love Me," Ware was clearly unafraid of frontloading some of her lowest-key cuts, but at no point could the performance be considered low energy. Ware oscillates between the smooth syrup of Sade and the vamping energy of early Whitney, exerting the control to move up and down the spectrum with little effort. Her backing band, a three-piece featuring bona-fide live drums and swashes of electric guitar, tightly encapsulates Ware's cuts in an intimate live setting, a striking and compact counterpoint to, say, the Dap-Kings or Adele's five-piece band. Standout "Sweet Talk," a swinging mid-tempo ballad, flourished in a live setting under Joseph Lehman's biting guitar leads.
Ware also affably interacted with the crowd. She's super funny, readily proffering up witty little stories between every single track. Ever the showman, she heaped praise on San Francisco, but at one point dropped a coy hint that she'd gotten flowers in New York and Boston. Girl then gave a full-bodied guffaw at front-row ladies who offered her, of all things, chewing gum. She singled out "awesome" bro-fans in the crowd, and later solicited breakfast options in the Mission -- don't be surprised if you see her at Mission Beach Café this morning. Ware's onstage banter provides a subtle inversion of her sometimes morose on-record persona, but more than that, it looks like girl's having a ton of fun out there.
Ware officially landed in the US last week with an EP entitled You're Never Gonna Move, featuring tracks from Devotion and a few R&B covers. It is Ware's official debut on American soil, but based on the jubilant reaction at Popscene last night, she's already infiltrated the stoutest defenses of our unmovingly jaded music nerds.
You're never gonna pun: The title track to Ware's new EP is actually a re-working of a Devotion track entitled "110%". Ware was forced to re-work it after learning her label had failed to clear a sample from a Big Pun cut. The song doesn't sample Pun's posthumous "100%", but when asked about the similarity (and 10 percent increase), Ware cheekily told Billboard "I thought I could top it." For what it's worth, this writer thinks the reconfigured "If You're Never Gonna Move" sounds an awful lot like the original "110%."
Wildest BFFs: Single "Wildest Moments" sounds like the elegy to a dead romance. In fact, the cut describes the complicated friendship between Ware and a sometimes feuding school-chum. Ware told Time Out magazine earlier this year that people stop her on the street and claim a connection between the song and their own romantic difficulties. "That's what I wanted," Ware says. "I wanted it to feel like a universal song." Onstage, Ware deadpanned of her friend, "We do love Sara! But we also hate her."
Opener: Opener Rochelle Jordan also has claims to the Next Big R&B Thing. She's been name-dropped in a Drake cut, she has members of the Weeknd moonlighting for her, and she's landed heaps of praise for her recently released record P R E S S U R E. Performing a short set on Thursday with just her producer Klash on the sampler, Jordan played a relatively contemporary set marked by her soaring voice over minimal beats.
Return appearance: For those of you weren't able to make Thursday's show, take heart: Ware has just been added to the Coachella lineup in April, so you have two opportunities to catch her live in California. All you have to do is, er, obtain a Coachella ticket.