Anne-Marie makes friend-zoning sound like a pretty contentious thing in her recent hit, “Friends.” But she’s clearly getting by with a little help from them, as pal Ed Sheeran picked her to open his American tour, which included a Rose Bowl stop Saturday, on top of co-writing a newer single, “2002,” with her. She’s moonlighting at a few stops along the way on Sheeran’s stadium jaunt by doing some smallish headlining gigs of her own, the first of which was Monday night at the Roxy. For her more fervent, intimacy-craving fans, it was a welcome chance to hear her sing about the friend-zone from somewhere other than an actual end zone.
One of the chief assets that emerged in this close-up and sweaty setting was that Anne-Marie is, well, friendly. Young American women who’ve been looking for a Brit-pop BFF or virtual pen pal from the other side of the pond — and one who’s likely to stay in better communication than Adele — could do a lot worse than to take up with this Essex-based 27-year-old, based on the infectious charisma, loose charm and willingness to connect that came through in her Roxy performance. “You’ll get used to that laugh,” she told the crowd after one utterance that was somewhere between a giggle and a snort. “It sounds like I’m in pain, but I’m actually very happy.”
This was the gal who posed with her eyes crossed on the back cover of her major-label debut album, “Speak Your Mind,” which finally arrived in April after about three years’ worth of UK solo singles and features. It’s good to know that goofball side is for real, since perhaps a bit too much of that freshman record is spent trying to be fierce, albeit a fierceness that gets tamped down by her producers’ wash of generic and trendy electronic arrangements. She sounded more convincingly mad when she sang those wronged-woman songs at the Roxy, but also a lot more madcap, too.
One problem with “Speak Your Mind” is that it feels so indebted to the kinds of beats and vocal cadences that Rihanna has popularized, it’s hard to tell whether it’s just your imagination or real that Anne-Marie is singing with a Barbadian accent, too. At its weakest, on the track “Trigger,” whatever emotion sparked the song is sacrificed in favor of a cloyingly stuttering sing-along. But that was just about the only song from the album that didn’t come to greater life in live performance. She brought along a three-piece band that sounded remarkably like a genuine rock group on “Ciao Adios,” and strived to duplicate the record in other numbers, but mostly found a comfortable middle ground that allowed for lush off-stage background vocals but also a kick drum that Anne-Marie could really thrash her shoulder-length hair to. And the thrashing seemed appropriate in a much-improve “Alarm,” when the keyboard player was allowed to put forth a louder, cruder electro riff that really did suggest a siren going off.
Anne-Marie’s biggest charmer of a song, live as on record, is “Perfect,” which is sort of a more colloquial and detailed take on Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” “I thought, you know what, I’m just gonna write down all of my insecurities on a piece of paper, or stuff I’m embarrassed about it or things I don’t like about my body,” Anne-Marie said. “Trust me on this, if you just tell someone, it makes you feel so much better.” Over a piano that sounded a little more R&B, if not gospel, than the record, she proceeded to catalog fault lines, including: “I eat my body weight in chocolate and ice cream” and the head-scratcher “I wish my legs were bigger, bigger than New York City.” Following a lyric about how “sometimes I wake up late and don’t even brush my teeth,” she put the lie to that and confessed to her flock that she does practice oral hygiene and it’s okay to get close.
The real highlights were “Then,” a breakup song that found her getting visibly verklempt, and “Can I Get Your Number,” a request that she said they hadn’t rehearsed as a full band but would accede to acoustically. And the closing “Friends” — a lot of fun, even if you wonder how much of a friendship is going to be left once she gets done excoriating this guy for being into her. Somewhat obligatorily, she has also added to the set a brand new David Guetta single that has her as featured vocalist, “Don’t Leave Me Alone,” that sounds too transparently like a poppy attempt to recapture that Chainsmokers/Halsey or Zedd/Maren Morris magic.
The debut has done her well enough — “Friends” went to No. 4 in the UK and No. 11 in the U.S. — but perhaps her second album will bring out even more of the individual spirit and exuberant zaniness Roxy-goers got a taste of. As was once said of the heroine on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”: She’s got spunk.