7th March 2013
Last time she played Manchester – on her first ever UK tour, at Sound Control in November – Jessie Ware noted how she hoped her family could have a box to watch her from next time. Giving a wave to her aunt on a roped-off balcony area, she’s definitely delivered. Now with two Brit nominations and a Mercury nod to her name, it’s no surprise that Jessie Ware finds herself swapping that previous intimate, sweaty room for over-triple-the-capacity venue HMV Ritz. And all within just four months.
But Jessie isn’t the only Brits nominee on the bill tonight. As if one soulful songstress wasn’t enough, Ware has brought Critic’s Choice shortlister Laura Mvula along as support on this tour – and their sounds compliment each other rather remarkably. Welcoming the evening in with her breezy and graceful nature, Mvula and her impossibly cool band harmonise their way through gems from her debut album Sing To The Moon. The likes of ‘Like The Morning Dew’ and ‘Green Garden’ are intact with off-kilter arrangements, rich choral vocals and infectiously spirited handclaps. So effortlessly charming, I can’t imagine it’ll be too long before she finds herself at the same dizzying heights as Jessie.
On that note, the time promptly arrives for Ware herself to enter the stage. And boy does she do it in style. Sauntering on just in time to hit the first notes of album title-track ‘Devotion’, Jessie Ware has the look and the presence of a truly established leading lady. In her glittered jacket she emits an elegance so profound that it’s almost disconcerting when, between songs, she turns to hearty chat and an endearing cheekiness. She even playfully accentuates technical issues, pulling faces as she struggles to get her mic off the stand and almost knocking over her drink with the lead. But details like this just add to Jessie’s appeal; despite her ever-growing success, she’s still incredibly grounded.
In between nattering, tracks such as ‘Night Light’ and ‘No To Love’ are rolled out as if second nature to her. Yet her cheekiness still shines through, as she mimes the words to the opening sample of ‘If You’re Never Gonna Move’ (formerly ‘110%’) to mimic the change brought about by a legal dispute. More impressively, though, is that with Jessie you don’t just get a string of album-identical versions. There’s an extra funk and sincerity in her voice that transforms the mellower songs with more up-tempo, danceable beats. So much so that heart-wrenching ballad ‘Taking In Water’ becomes even more prominent amidst the set. Sung with true vulnerability, the ode to her little brother proves a definite highlight as her unbound vocal almost detaches itself from the surrounding production, spanning an impressive and sensual range.
Yet Jessie is eager to slow the pace even further, as we reach an intimate rendition of her Bobby Cauldwell cover ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’, before drummer Dornik Leigh is welcomed out front to lend his gorgeously soothing vocals to Sampha collaboration ‘Valetine’. “I’m so glad you all got a chance to hear his voice,” Jessie beams to the incessant applause, explaining that this is only the second time they have performed it together. There’s no time to delve into the milder tones for too long though, as the up-tempo beats soon return with the debut of a new collaboration with Julio Bashmore, as Ware attempts to “channel Chaka,” hinting at a more disco-esque direction with new material.
Before the adoring crowd have a chance to really take it all in, the familiar notes of hits ‘Wildest Moments’ and ‘Running’ embrace the room, prompting a deafening sing-along and indicating the culmination of a triumphant return. With a huge grin and a knowing appreciation, Jessie notes that Manchester is like second home to her. And tonight, she made HMV Ritz feel like just that: home.
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