As her band play the extended opening bars of Devotion, the song that opens one of last year’s finest pop records, Jessie Ware glides elegantly onto the Shepherds Bush Empire stage.
She looks every inch the star she is well on her way to becoming, with elegant cape and trademark hoop earrings. She looks and sounds as graceful as the song, filling this famous space with that exceptional voice. She appears sophisticated, refined and chic against a simple black backdrop bearing her name. She exudes class.
The girl we’ve watched grow from guest-vocalist to main attraction really looks the part.
Suddenly she breaks into a wide grin, flings her arms in the air and yells “Tonight I shall be called Pope Jessie!” referring to yesterday’s papal election. “Just kidding, it’s gone” she laughs, dramatically flinging her red cape to the floor and prancing across the stage. “Thanks *so* much for coming everyone!” And all of this in the kind of South London salt-of-the-earth accent we knew she had but had forgotten all about for the past three glamorous minutes.
The spell is broken, but it’s no bad thing.
Tonight won’t be a night where we see a demure, polished talent deliver a perfect, stage-managed performance. Instead we’ll see a girl who doesn’t care what people think of her, as the cliché goes, a girl that just loves to sing. The Devotion act, it was a trick.
This is the final night of Jessie Ware’s UK tour, the second of two sold-out nights at this grand venue and the place is filled with the definition of an adoring audience; rowdy groups of family and friends seem to be everywhere. Even her support act are her old bandmates. Its feels like a homecoming.
Still Love Me and Night Light see her loosen up and we see the real Ware; she’s an emotional and enthusiastic, almost childlike character blessed with a fantastic set of lungs and a knack for writing great pop tunes.
Her band deliver a slick performance, punchy but understated enough to let her voice take centre stage. The live drums take a break to let Julio Bashmore‘s beats replace them on 110% and the electronic element seems to suit her even more. As Sweet Talk arrives it comes with the realisation that, man, this girl got a lot of good songs.
There’s a new one, too; next single Imagine It Was Us is another Bashmore collaboration. “I wanted to do a fun song, like Madonna” she says of the faster disco-soul number that has us thinking of Michael Jackson back in his disco days. Madonna and Michael Jackson. She’s come a long way.
That voice is given a proper workout on Something Inside, included because last night’s crowd were disappointed not to hear it. Their loss, it’s magnificent. By all accounts they will have witnessed a different Jessie Ware too – nervous at returning to the venue where she experienced her first concert (Another Level, bless her). Playing two shows here clearly means an awful lot to her.
At least two people will be able to compare both; she spots them in the front row and recognises them from the pervious night. It transpires they have followed her across the UK, popping up in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and twice in London. “I feel like I owe you a drink,” she tells them. “You’re going to get bored!” is her genuine concern. She may be overwhelmed but you feel she deserves her super-fans.
There’s her cover of What You Won’t Do For Love, performed acoustically, and a dreamy version of Valentine, with her drummer an able substitute for Sampha on vocal duties. Dave Okumu, singer and guitarist with The Invisible and driving force behind her Devotion LP joins her on stage, as do the Goldsmiths Vocal Ensemble who bring a touch of musical theatre to No To Love, if you like that sort of thing.
There are low points tonight; Swan Song slips into M.O.R. anonymousness and her excited chattering strays beyond endearing at times, but with that voice we’d forgive her this and more. We suppose the crux of the matter is whether you like your superstars with a little mystique, a pop-star sheen which distances them from the record buying public, or whether you’d prefer to see more artists like Ware; a no-bulls**t, leave your pretentiousness at the door, this is me, take it or leave it performer. It’s refreshing.
She can’t leave without giving us the bona-fide smash that is Wildest Moments, leading to an audience singalong which leaves an overwhelmed Ware in tears, or Running which sees her let that powerful voice fully off the leash to almost bring the roof down, departing with a thunderous final-note bang.
Her transformation from supporting role to star looks complete to us. The girl done good. G’warn Jessie!