With the Invisible
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
November 10, 2013
"It doesn't feel like a Sunday anymore," exclaimed Jessie Ware one song in to her debut Minneapolis performance at the Varsity Theater. The London singer/songwriter warmed up the room and got the receptive crowd swaying to her sultry, intoxicating songs, while injecting enough of her effervescent personality into the hour long set to leave us all charmed and wanting more.
During such a brief performance as this one, if an artist takes too long to hit their stride, much of the show is already lost and any kind of momentum proves hard to capture. But Ware, dressed resplendently in a black tuxedo jacket, sauntered out after her three-piece band set the grooves of opener "No to Love" and was on point vocally and charismatically straight from the start. She even worked in fragments of Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" seamlessly into the opening number, which only reinforced the wistful, desire-fueled sentiments of her original song.
Ware appeared to be genuinely taken aback by the warm response she received from the crowd, and thanked us profusely throughout the show. After a smooth, pulsating rendition of "Still Love Me" kept the strong start going, Ware said, "God, you're really loud. I like it like this. Keep it up, Minneapolis." And what the audience may have lacked in numbers (the house was sadly only a little over half-full) they more than made up for in volume, with each intoxicating number greeted with a boisterous, encouraging ovation.
A rhythmic and seductive take on "Night Light" found the Varsity shrouded in near darkness, which only added to the allure of the track. Ware further connected with the crowd by talking about her acoustic in-store performance earlier that afternoon, "We did the Electric Fetus thing earlier today. It's such a nice record store. But we've got to carry on, don't we?" The well-paced set then continued with an enticing run through of "110%," which got the crowd moving, though Ware noticed that something was holding some fans back.
"I'm going to take your coat, because it's shit that you have to hold it the entire show," she offered to one fan up front, before asking if anyone else had a coat she could check for them. She graciously ended up taking 10-15 coats from her fans and placing them sidestage, allowing them to enjoy the show unencumbered. It was definitely a sweet moment, and further ingratiated Ware with her adoring audience.
An intoxicating take on "Sweet Talk" only strengthened that bond, with Ware explaining that "this is going to be like a Diana Ross concert and you're all going to be friends by the end of it." And during the song's smooth breakdown at the end, she effortlessly got the entire audience swaying in time to the groove, two-stepping along with her as the band brought the beguiling track home. Usually, you have to heartily encourage a Minnesota crowd to dance, but Ware coaxed us all into it easily, proving just how much the audience was under her spell.
The stage was again darkened for a moody, brooding take on "Devotion," the title-track to Ware's Mercury Prize nominated debut album, with the track soaring in the small club. She went on to thank all of her fans who have traveled to see her for this show and others on her tour, before introducing the next number by warmly saying, "This is a song about my little brother." An impassioned, anguished version of "Taking In Water" followed, with Ware keeping her eyes closed as she poured herself into her vocals. The track contained echoes of Bone Thugs N Harmony's "1st Of Tha Month" with the "Wake up" vocals of the backing band adding to the genuine, unvarnished sentiments of the stirring track.
"I wasn't going to do this because many of you heard it earlier," Ware explained, again referring to her in-store performance at the Fetus. "But fuck it, we're just going to do it. It's by Bobby Caldwell." A stripped-down take on "What You Won't Do For Love" followed, with Jessie singing along to her guitarist's muted accompaniment. She even handled a call of "Marry me!" from someone in the crowd by smoothly working in a response of "I'm taken, sorry" into the song. "Imagine It Was Us" had a decidedly "Rock With You"-like beat to it, with Ware leading a clubby, dub-step breakdown at the end which blossomed into fragments of Julio Bashmore's "Battle For Middle You," giving us a different side of Ware's sound and influences.
Dave Okumu, from openers the Invisible, helped Ware write and produced much of Devotion, and Jessie brought him out at the end of the set to play guitar on a glorious run through of "Wildest Moments" that proved to be a clear standout of the set. "I want to see everyone up for this next one," Ware instructed. "Everyone in those fancy tables there, get on up." And with the entire audience on their feet, Ware brought the main set to a rousing finish with "Running," before thanking the crowd for making her first show in Minneapolis a special one as she was off with a wave.
After a brief encore break, the band (including Okumu) quickly returned, with Ware paying tribute to the Minneapolis sound by covering Martika's "Love, Thy Will Be Done," which was co-written by Prince himself. It was a brilliant moment, with Ware giving a knowing nod to the musical history of this city while also sharing a song that has obviously helped shape her sound over the years. The all-too-brief set ended with a new song from Jessie, "True Believers," which proves that this talented artist has plenty more to say in the future, and those of us she captivated with this spellbinding performance will certainly be right there listening to whatever she comes up with next.
Personal Bias: While I enjoy Devotion quite a bit, those songs really take on a new life in a live setting.
The Crowd: A cross section of many divergent music fans in the Twin Cities, proving that Ware's music has a broad, cross-genre appeal.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I want her sense of style so bad."
Random Notebook Dump: While this was Ware's first headlining performance in Minneapolis with her own band, she has technically performed here before as a singer in Jack Peñate's band.
No To Love/I Want You (Marvin Gaye)
Still Love Me
Taking In Water
What You Won't Do For Love (Bobby Caldwell)
Imagine It Was Us/Battle For Middle You (Julio Bashmore)
Love, Thy Will Be Done (Martika/Prince)