For her first ever concert in Los Angeles, U.K.-based songstress Jessie Ware delivered a sharp, precise sampling of material from her acclaimed debut album “Devotion.” With ticket demand necessitating a last-minute venue upgrade from the Bootleg Bar to the adjacent, 450-capacity Bootleg Theater, Ware and her three-piece backing band enjoyed a surprisingly fervent response from the typically cool Echo Park audience. Oftentimes tastemaking showcases like Ware’s are dulled by a deluge of bored music industry acolytes, but Thursday evening’s performance was refreshingly filled with earnest fans who cheered and sang along to nearly every track.
Over the past few months, Ware’s cultural cachet has skyrocketed in the U.S. due to a healthy amount of praise from bloggers and a nomination for Britain’s Mercury Prize. Signed to Interscope imprint Cherrytree Records in the U.S., Ware is part of a current crop of major-label-signed artists — such as Frank Ocean and James Blake — who’ve built credibility with niche releases and then catapulted to fame with refined proper debuts. This can be a slow approach to starmaking, however, and Ware’s album still hasn’t been officially released in the U.S.
With little fuss or fanfare, Ware and her band took the stage in front of a large black banner with her name printed in white block lettering. Her image is carefully-crafted yet restrained – hair wrapped in a thick bun, golden hoop earrings, a lace shirt and an undersized black jacket – and her banter was humorous, lighthearted and a bit self-deprecating, which contrasted nicely with the downbeat, romantic nature of her music. Opening with “Devotion,” the band exhibited a restrained, minimal sound that left ample room for Ware’s startlingly powerful voice.
Throughout the evening, Ware exhibited a wonderful amount of vocal control, judiciously saving the thunderous heights of her range for key melodic moments. The jaunty, pulsating “Sweet Talk” was a crowd favorite, blending smooth swaths of electric piano with her tantalizingly restrained vocal. Her sound draws heavily from many of the ’80s easy-listening mainstays — particularly Sade — but it’s been updated with just enough modern R&B and electro influences to remain vital and compelling.
Breakthrough single “Wildest Moments” delivered a guttural, wholly emotional contrast to most of the evening’s slick, tight-lipped fare. The thudding drum beat and rapturous hook were delivered with inspired force, giving the crowd its only clear moment of unbridled, passionate expression. It was perfectly chosen as the penultimate track, allowing Ware to finish with the brooding, faster-paced “Running.”
The entire concert clocked in at under an hour and clearly left the audience excited and eager for more material. Those in attendance witnessed the pleasantly low-key debut of a wonderfully talented performer with enormous artistic potential. Ware will return to Los Angeles on Jan. 23 for a performance at the larger El Rey Theater.