Songs from What’s Your Pleasure? are given a long-overdue live airing to rapturous effect, aided by the appearance of a certain special guest
Having first been postponed because of the pandemic, and then a second time because members of the touring party came down with covid, London at last got its fix of Jessie Ware’s fourth – and best so far – album What’s Your Pleasure? in a live setting. Released in the pre-plague times of early 2020, it spawned several singles promoted with hauntingly locked-down solo videos before being reissued in deluxe form last year, with some fine additions. It seems extraordinary that we’ve had to wait this long for an artist who actually lives in the city – specifically, a bus ride down the road in Dulwich – to play.
It’s not that Ware has been slacking. Kiss Of Life, a fantastic meeting of minds with Kylie Minogue for the latter’s own deluxe album, Disco: Guest List Edition, came about after the two met in Ware’s other life as a podcast host of her own series, Table Manners, which she co-presents with her mum. Would Minogue, who showed up two nights before at the launch of ABBA‘s Voyage in Stratford, make it across town to Brixton’s big barn for a guest spot?
The setlist tonight wisely majored on What’s Your Pleasure? tracks, starting with, appropriately, the album opener Spotlight. Each of four backing singers/dancers, a live drummer and a music director – who seemed to be responsible for everything else – appeared one by one in silhouette, spotlit to rapturous welcoming applause, the loudest of which was naturally reserved for the homecoming of our host. Resplendent in a teal blue dress with dramatic sleeves, Ware integrated with the dancers’ choreography in places, peeled off solo in others. Ooh La La and a playful Read My Lips followed in short order, the tracks segueing one into the other as if we were witnessing a DJ set.
When finally Ware does speak to her people, there’s a lot of the podcast host about the detail of her between-songs anecdotes. There’s one about her mate having a baby that morning and therefore missing the show, and another about mates who used to live above Brixton’s Morley’s department store, round the corner. She asks where in the audience her husband and daughters are – they’re found and given their own applause from a crowd bursting with goodwill, and she sings Soul Control directly to him, rather adorably.
Kylie Actual Minogue does indeed pop in for Kiss Of Life after all – on her birthday, no less. And there’s no denying it is a great song, with a girl’s night out at the disco vibe that never takes itself too seriously and gets the whole place shimmying. Afterwards, Minogue gets a much deserved birthday cake for her trouble, complete with sparkler candles: the place erupts once more, and merrily sings along to an impromptu Happy Birthday To You. The rapport between the global superstar and our headliner is unfakeable and a joy to behold; they clearly get on, and are delighted to be performing together. There are further fine moments: Remember Where You Are is a hymn to remember the good times as they’re happening and being in the moment, with backing singers and audience alike harmonising in the chorus.
If there’s a criticism, it is with having too few musicians. The title track of What’s Your Pleasure? – Ware suggestively stalking about with a whip as she sings it – suffers particularly, the dramatic synth stabs entirely absent. With almost all of the music necessarily on backing tracks, there’s a lack of spontanaeity about the arrangements; Ware as the focus of the show is well able to cope with some individual moments, so it’s a pity to underplay musical aspects of light and shade in favour of what’s generally a rather soupy overall mix.
But in the encore the best track from the deluxe edition, the dance floor-centric Hot N Heavy, is sandwiched in amongst Save A Kiss, the title track and the meditative Running, from her debut album Devotion, giving in microcosm a pleasing summation of her range. The words of the latter are sung back at her, underlining that many of these fans have been with her from the start and underlining Ware’s staying power. Tonight she gave evidence too of star power, one likely still in the ascendant.
Jessie Ware played: Spotlight, Ooh La La, Read My Lips, Step Into My Life, Wildest Moments, If You’re Never Gonna Move, Mirage (Don’t Stop), Soul Control, Say You Love Me, Champagne Kisses, Midnight, Kiss Of Life, Happy Birthday To You, Please, Remember Where You Are. Encore: Running, Hot N Heavy, What’s Your Pleasure?, Save A Kiss