Estelle / Leon Jean Marie, Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Wednesday 18 June 2008
As soon as you've put Estelle's support act Leon Jean Marie into a pigeonhole, he quickly leaps out of it. As the east-London pretty boy sings the jerky, twisted pop-funk of "Bring It On", you think he's just like Prince. Five minutes later, he and his band are doing a nice impression of Huey Lewis and The News. As he closes with the heavy metal rock-out of "Scratch", I tell myself not to force my preconceptions on artists. Marie has Mark Ronson's seal of approval: that's all you need to know.
As for the main course: well, she's late, of course. But what would an R&B diva be without a spot of tardiness? As we wait, we're kept entertained by the excellent stand-up comedian Kojo Mante. When Estelle takes to the stage, all is forgiven. She's the consummate pop star: smiling like a beauty queen, charisma emanating from every sequin, stalking the stage with those killer legs, pointing out her family in the audience. After playing "Wait a Minute (Just a Touch)", the west London-born singer – who now lives in New York – even sheds a tear at being back in her old neighbourhood. "Bush Empire!" she yells. "It's the ends!"
Estelle knows we're here to be entertained, and she pulls out all the stops. After four years in the pop wilderness, her second album, Shine, was the comeback nobody saw coming. She scored her first No 1 single with "American Boy", making her homecoming all the more special. This glamorous, assured woman is a different creature from the cocky hip-hop girl of 2004, and the new songs show it: "Magnificent" is just that, and the Philly soul of "More Than Friends" shimmers like the pop gem it is.
In a DJ interlude, Estelle's 11-strong entourage – band, dancers, backing singers, a violinist – dance like drunks on a Saturday night (but in a good way). Back in another, more feathery mini-dress and sky-high heels, Estelle asks: "Who here was born in the 1980s?" before singing her 2004 single "1980" – the one that almost made her a one-hit wonder. It's a big moment, but one the Empire's sound-system can't cope with: her lyrics are swallowed up by fuzz. It's just as well that the audience know them off by heart.
"Tell me if I'm rubbish!" she tells the ecstatic crowd, before launching into a triumphant "American Boy". Don't be fooled by Estelle's modesty: she's the comeback kid of 2008, and she knows just how good she is.
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