thu 25/04/2019

Jessie J, Somerset House | reviews, news & interviews

Jessie J, Somerset House

Jessie J, Somerset House

Glossy sound and endearing chatter the perfect accompaniment to an alfresco G&T

Jessie J: "climaxes like ambushes"

With nothing to sell except herself, Jessie J was at her most engaging and spontaneous last night, closing the summer series at Somerset House, and her own current tour. There was no need to plug her latest album, Sweet Talker, now nearly a year old, so the set picked and mixed her whole career. For some musicians that would emphasise a stylistic narrative of some kind; but Jessie has always been characterised by a kind of generic patchwork quilt, with soul, pop, and R&B sharing a slightly uneasy bed alongside snatches of hip hop and dance music.  

It took the engineers a minute to get the sound balance working, and the first few bars of “Ain’t Been Done” were, unusually for a singer with such a potent voice, a little band-heavy. There was no danger of that with the second song, “Domino”, and the vocal climax of that piece was an electric, soulful yell. At full power, her voice squirms and shimmies like the back end of a Porsche accelerating hard, and it’s an exhilarating sound. Last night these climaxes arrived and departed like ambushes – perhaps she was holding back a little after a recent illness? – but it was, intentional or not, a powerful dramatic effect. 

“Nobody’s Perfect” has a similar balladic climax, and filled the square with passionate sound, while “Thunder” swelled to an equally feisty chorus. Authentic human stories of hunger and love are her strength, while anything that tries too hard to be raunchy – “Do It Like a Dude” felt a bit like that last night – struggled for the same conviction. “Price Tag” and “Burnin’ Up” had just the right balance of sex and sensuality, while the jollity of “Flashlight”, with a little Apple commercial on the side, also felt slightly forced.  

The incessant motivational, inspirational chatter flirts absurdly with apocalyptic religiosity

With the cheekbones, and hair conditioned to the hard, glossy lacquer of a Louis XIV commode, there’s a touch of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, about Jessie, the pair forming a kind of sociologist’s experiment into the fortunes of a beautiful, ambitious young woman in 21st-century Britain, with and without Professor Higgins.

She’s always been an open, talkative performer, and whether it was the health-related cancellation of gigs on her Australian tour earlier this year, or simply the arrival home in London (she now lives in Los Angeles), she was in especially effusive form. The incessant motivational, inspirational chatter sometimes flirts absurdly with a kind of apocalyptic religiosity. She said at one point: “As someone who’s in the light, it’s my responsibility to share this with someone in the dark.” The preachy tone is hard to take seriously from a candyfloss singer in plunge-necked pyjamas, but it’s well-meant and usually endearing.

The audience didn’t respond to her immediately, and for the first half-dozen songs Jessie held the mic aloft for a chorus from the audience that never materialised. It wasn’t disengagement, just couples enjoying a sunset G&T. Jessie has the repertoire to ensure that every gig ends with a bang or two, and when the inevitable came, the crowd was swaying appreciatively in the caressing summer breeze. The two little girls in front of me with a cute homemade banner of magazine shots and sparkly stars sellotaped to bamboo poles had as much fun as the couples slurping cocktails. The act is not especially original or brilliant, but in these circumstances it worked well.

Jessie’s ever-decreasing outfits always tread a slightly uneasy line between gym session and “glamour” video, though it’s all of a piece with an act that despite the strenuous effort to be glitzy, is often likeably, authentically insecure and needy. Whatever the audience thought of Jessie’s appearance, there was no doubt that Somerset House itself was in its finest summer outfit, with faint trails of dappled cloud across a pale sky, and the rose sunset bathing the quadrangle walls. If you want an outdoor gig, and a clean flushing toilet, and a fast train home round the corner, this series is hard to beat.

@matthewwrighter

Authentic human stories of hunger and love are her strength

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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