Roxanne Tataei, aka Rox, has a problem. A nasty cough that she’s picked up on her first headline tour has returned to blight her homecoming gig in the cramped Dingwalls. There are two apologies about the state of her vocals, both of which seem entirely disingenuous; struggling with a cold or not, the pint-sized diva barely drops a note in a 50 minute set that both she and her label Rough Trade hope will enforce those predictions of big things for her in 2010.
For the most part, everyone can rest easy. Confidently striding out following a short instrumental intro from her band, Rox owns the stage like a seasoned veteran, which isn’t entirely surprising given her BRIT school education. Opening with recent single My Baby Left Me, she’s reminiscent of a young Lauryn Hill, reaching out to the crowd and then pulling her hand away mock-dramatically or sneering and tutting at some man that’s done her wrong. Such similarities are also there in the way she half-sings, half-raps the verses before moving effortlessly into a velvety croon for the chorus.
It’s on the slower songs, however, that Rox truly begins to perform; not in the sense that she raises her game, but more in the sense of an over-eager drama student. Whilst No Going Back and Forever Always Wishing are gorgeous soul ballads, the middle section of the gig sags badly, with a handful of over-egged and dreary love songs deflating the atmosphere she’d created earlier.
Things aren’t helped by an oddly timed interval that sees Rox exit the stage just as the set comes to life, leaving her band to play an endless jam, whilst an overwrought acoustic cover of Seal‘s Crazy immediately brings to mind a particularly self-satisfied Live Lounge set. The hunger and desire to succeed is almost palpable, and though it’s admirable to want to do something well, in this instance it begins to look desperate.
Luckily, the gig ends with a run of upbeat songs from her soon to be released debut, Memoirs. Recent single I Don’t Believe snaps everyone back into life, whilst a fantastic Rocksteady shows not only Rox’s Jamaican roots but also her impressive skills. Free from the shackles of the over-dramatic showstoppers, we see Rox genuinely having fun and running on pure adrenaline. Perhaps it was nerves – as she mentions a few times, tonight represents her first sold-out headline show – or maybe it was the cold, but there are times when all the emoting fails to mask a lack of tunes. And yet, for the most part, we get to witness a new talent slowly emerging from the hype.