Published on SF Weekly 11/19/2013
Monday, Nov. 18, 2013
Better than: Jessie Ware’s set at Outside Lands.
Jessie Ware describes her sound as “British Soul,” though her sound is plenty reminiscent of American pop stars like Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, and Madonna (the ’90s version). She has rolled through San Francisco a few times before, including a show at The Independent last April, and then again for Outside Lands. Ware returned to San Francisco with The Invisible on Nov. 18 for a sold-out show at The Fillmore.
The Invisible, a three-piece band based out of London, began touring Ware two weeks ago, though they’ve known each other for much longer — The Invisible singer/guitarist Dave Okumu produced Jessie Ware’s debut album Devotion in August 2012. The Invisible’s dynamic set could certainly fill its own bill, but together with Ware, the pairing was as complimentary as a cheese plate and a glass of full-bodied red wine — Ware being the goblet of sweet nectar.
The Invisible captured the crowd’s attention, put them into something like a trance, then constantly changed the pace. Moving seamlessly from genre to genre, they hit on rock, funk, R&B, and beachy influences but remained glued together by a steady and diggable bass line and Okumu’s sensual vocals. Heavy guitar riffs intertwined with electronic drums and groovy synth, causing the crowd to sway from side to side like waves of the ocean. The band opened with a ballad and concluded with a melodic guitar solo from Okumu.
Then, finally, after equipment had been shuffled and the crowd had been tortured with a few scales of a head-bobbable beat, a deep, angelic voice filled the room. “Who says no to love?” Ware asked. The audience roared.
Ware strutted across the stage in a sleek blazer suit, clean ponytail, and her signature gold hoop earrings. Her apparel might have been modest, but her demeanor is always voluptuous. She’s a “nice Jewish girl,” she told the crowd, holding the microphone stand close after a romantic ballad.
Ware extended a sassy arm above her head to create a frame as she wailed into the mic for songs like “Swan Song,” “Devotion,” and “Wildest Moments.” It wasn’t hard to see the influence the divas she personally worships: Whitney Houston, Barbara Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor. Add a bit of R&B and hip-hop to the mix and you get Ware’s slow jams: the perfect balance of sad, tender, and danceable.
The most beautiful irony of Ware’s performance came when she began to sing “110%,” a song about dancing on your own, and the entire sold-out venue erupted into dance. Now if you’re never gonna move, oh my love/You’ll make me come to you/But I’m still dancing on my own/Dancing on my own.
At one point, the singer-songwriter stepped aside for her drummer to take lead vocals for a track, resulting in another roar from the crowd. She recognized fans in the crowd who apparently tagged her in a post earlier that day. “I’m glad you’re here! I wanted to see your face again,” she said with a smile. She slipped in a Bobby Caldwell cover, “What You Won’t Do For Love.” For the final portion of the set, members of The Invisible took the stage for one of Ware’s biggest hits, “Running.”
— The Invisible members took to the stage with t-shirts that seemed to be a nod to Picasso’s lopsided self-portrait, made by British designer Alex Mullins.
— At some point, we realized Ware had been hitting all the notes we didn’t expect her to hit live. It’s possible her live performances are better than recordings solely because of the high notes and the emotion in her eyes. If show-goers don’t stand close enough to see Ware’s eyes while she’s performing, they’re wasting a ticket.