Jazz Café – 22nd February
The first time I saw Jessie Ware was in 2012. Touring her debut album Devotion, Jessie played a sold out show in the (comparably) small upstairs room of now-defunct Manchester venue Sound Control. Mostly I remember that pitch-perfect vocal that drips with soul, but I also remember her gleefully shouting out to her Mum and her Auntie in the crowd, and her very slightly nervy presence in between songs. They were nerves that went undetected at the time, but looking back now – three albums deep with a myriad of live shows under her belt – there’s a huge difference between the Jessie Ware of 2012 and the Jessie Ware of 2018.
A couple of days before heading off on the Glasshouse tour celebrating the release of her beautiful third album, 2018 Jessie popped into Jazz Café to play for Annie Mac as part of her AMP Sounds series. Alongside a few club shows, February saw Annie stepping away from the DJ booth, instead curating four nights of live music in the revered Camden venue.
We caught the end of effervescent New York indie rock outfit Sunflower Bean, playing tracks from their new record TwentyTwo in Blue. Slick, effortlessly energetic and clearly a little bit star-struck, lead singer Julia Cummings later joined Ware on stage for a honeyed rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’.
The evening was further proof – not that I needed it – that Jessie Ware is one of the most relatable (and most talented) musicians in the game. “She has no filter, and that’s why we love her,” laughed Annie Mac as she welcomed our “national treasure” to the stage. Annie couldn’t have made a more appropriate intro. Hungover from the Brits – but looking more glamorous than you or I ever will – Jessie asked for a hair of the dog whisky, admitted she couldn’t turn around because her sample size jumpsuit was too small, cackled at the crowd’s not so tuneful singalong to ‘Midnight’, welcomed a fun-loving Sophie onto the stage (Sophie was clearly smashed), and shouted out a snogging couple before pondering aloud, “is it weird that I really love to watch people kissing?”. The crowd were howling with laughter, relaxed and joyful in an atmosphere only Jessie Ware can curate. It’s a unique balance, radiating elegant professionalism in her performance whilst retaining a hilarious and tender rapport with the audience.
There were a few moments that the sound levels could have been better; opener ‘Thinking About You’ would have benefited from slightly lower drums and, similarly, the trills of the guitar in ‘No to Love’ were lost in the percussion. Generally, though, the sound was good, and it was a privilege to see Jessie Ware play in an intimate setting like Jazz Café. AMP COLLECTED shone above the stage in blue neon, and swivelling spotlights bathed her in gentle dappled hues of pink and blue. Up on the mezzanine, the restaurant diners were soon out of their seats and singing their hearts out.
Despite asking us to excuse her for any Brit-induced “bum notes”, as always Jessie Ware’s soaring vocal was just as good, if not better, than it is on record. As her stage presence has increased in sass level over the years, so too has her voice; enter sultry vibrato and gusto in the high notes. As much as Ware excels in moving top lines, so too can she make you shiver with her breathy intimacy; delicate and deeply personal love song ‘Sam’ – dedicated to her husband and their baby girl – was only slightly marred by chatter at the back, the exception in an otherwise perfectly still and invested crowd.
As her set came to an end, Ware asked that the audience put away their phones so that we could enjoy the final few records together. Frustratingly, there were a couple of Snapchat fiends with selective hearing. Nevertheless, the band excelled in ‘Tough Love’ – the sparse, super tight instrumentation allowing for the floating vocal. Closing with ‘Wildest Moments’, an ode to having a relationship with your best friend that’s simultaneously volatile and restorative, Jessie Ware sashayed from one side of the stage to the other, scanning the crowd to make genuine eye contact with a grateful, loving grin.