Through the month of July, artists have been taking their turn on stage at Somerset House as part of the venue’s summer series. In the centre of London, the courtyard of the imposing neoclassical building demands a big talent to fill it. Jessie Ware, delighted to be back in her hometown, lives up to the setting.
‘Devotion’ sets things on the right track. The sound is good: drumbeat turned high, and skittering samples reverberating off the sandstone walls like pebbles over water. She looks the part, her black Miu Miu cape flowing behind her in the evening breeze as she paces the stage. This is the Ware of her album and videos: slick, stylized and accomplished.
Her band takes a while to find cohesion. It sounds like there's an effects pedal missing on the guitar riff for ‘Still Love Me’, giving the distracting impression of a phone ringing. With ‘Taking In Water’, as the sun dips, she comes into her own. The hard work she put in as a session musician shines through in her voice as she elides into ‘Something Inside’.
A disco'ed up version of ‘Imagine It Was Us’ changes the tempo and with a couple of wah-wahs tapped out on her sequencer, she drops into Julio Bashmore’s ‘Looking For Middle You’, paying tribute to his low-frequency, bass-heavy sound that is an important strand of her musical DNA through his production work on her debut album.
She tells the audience how happy she is to be back in London, a place that underpins her sound. In talking between every song, and sometimes mid-track, she expresses a warmth not immediately felt on her album. She rambles a little, at points gushing, about how it was going to rain and how many festivals she’s played. She pokes fun at herself for ‘trying to be like Beyonce’ when she walks down to serenade the front row, saying ‘that won’t happen again’. It can all be very engaging: the crowd laugh along with her and do the two-step to ‘Sweet Talk’. And it’s honest: there are no pretentions, no performance technique; this is genuinely her.
The routine plays well, and the crowd give her a long ovation before closer ‘Running’. But something jars between the particular kind of composed cool of her sound and image and her slightly nervy, jumbled dialogue with the audience. With this being the last UK show for ‘Devotion’, hopefully she can reconcile this disconnect with album number two.