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21st November 2023

Jessie Ware live in Manchester: A Queer Jewish extravaganza

Jessie Ware transformed Victoria Warehouse into a discotheque with a theatrical concert in support of her acclaimed new record
Jessie Ware live in Manchester: A Queer Jewish extravaganza
Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion

Jessie Ware is one of the hottest British artists right now. Following her breathtaking disco record, What’s Your Pleasure? – one of the most notable albums of the 2020 disco revival – Ware released That! Feels Good! this year. Whilst both records are terrific, TFG is arguably more accessible and immediate.

The production value of Ware’s previous tour was incredible. She put the “Ware” in Victoria Warehouse, transforming the warehouse into a discotheque, with camp costumes and gorgeous choreography. The new tour retained some of that tour’s glamour but, like the album it is in support of, the vibe was gentler.

The backing singers, who also toured with her last time, were the fabulous NILE and Adenikè Zen, who exuberated energy and charisma. The dancers were Ben Joseph-Hukin, who was on the last tour (and who you might recognise from ASOS) and the new edition Guillaume Queau. Ben had baby diva energy; he was simultaneously adorable and sexy. Guillaume, with his Greek God physique, embodied camp masculinity, a perfect paradox.

The singers danced and the dancers sang. The group numbers were sensational but difficult to compare to the funky choreography of the previous tour. The musicians, Samson Jatto and Ed Seed, brought the sensational album to life. They, too, were a joy to watch; they clearly love what they do.

Emma Davis‘ lighting was to die for. The troupe radiated under her lights. The lighting was particularly striking during the final number: this album’s lead single, ‘Free Yourself’.

The costumes were obviously divine but the staging could have been improved. With a curtain cloaking the back of the stage with a neon sign reading “The Pearl”, the cabaret club concept didn’t create the same heightened drama of the previous tour. 

Ware’s live shows would be better suited to theatre-like venues – think Manchester Apollo – venues with atmosphere and charm, unlike the cold, soulless Victoria Warehouse. Nonetheless, she certainly mixed things up for this tour. She is all about reinvention. Even her opening act was a different type of performer: whilst last time she had a DJ, Jodie Harsh, this time we had METTE, a professional dancer and singer.

METTE has previously toured as a dancer for other musicians and is now performing as a singer. Her set saw her both sing and dance. She sang a few covers – including ‘Rhythm Nation’ by Janet Jackson, an artist known for her remarkable dancing – as well as some of her own material.

Ware’s setlist included a nice mix of songs from the new album and the previous one. Ware played two nights in Manchester this year. Clearly, her fan base has grown, so people who did not see the last tour were no doubt delighted that some WYP tracks were performed.

The consequence of this was the elimination of Ware’s older material, which featured prominently in the last tour. She of course still sang her signature song and biggest hit, ‘Say You Love Me’, but other golden oldies, such as ‘Wildest Moments’, were omitted.

There were a few lesser-known songs performed, presumably because Ware was fond of them and wanted to celebrate and share them. It was great to see her sing a segment of ‘Selfish Love’ because the Spanish version, ‘Egoísta’, is the first Jessie Ware song that caught my attention.

Early on, she told us that she was not going to talk too much because she talks so much that we could do a podcast (a reference to her hit podcast with her mother, Table Manners with Jessie and Lennie Ware). Despite this, she made sure to maintain her interactions with the audience, congratulating a newly-wedded lesbian couple in the crowd.

“Congratulations. Mazel tov. You got married to my song Champagne Kisses. That is not on the setlist tonight, sorry, but you can have this one instead!” she said, referring to her latest single, ‘Hello Love’. 

She then got the crowd to say “mazel tov”, unashamedly addressing her Jewishness at a time when antisemitism has risen drastically, whilst continuing to use her platform to raise awareness of the situation in Gaza.

The main set ended with ‘Beautiful People’, a celebration of individuality and a love letter to the queer community, who make up the bulk of Ware’s fan base.

Things only got gayer in the encore, which was opened with a cover of Cher‘s ‘Believe’, with Ware performing the slowed-down first verse and chorus in the balcony before making her way downstairs, through the crowd, and to the stage.

“Manchester, this is the last song,” she told us. Some in the crowd booed. “Don’t f*cking boo me; I just ran through the crowd!” she snapped sassily, before singing the new album’s lead single, ‘Free Yourself’.

That! Feels Good! Live is a camptastic celebration of life and all that makes it beautiful. Although it didn’t have the same dramatic flair as the previous tour, it was more welcoming and immediate.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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