Jessie Ware, Keeton Coffman Fitzgerald's October 19th, 2013
When we discuss separating art and the artist, it's usually because the artist has done something bad. When times are good no one ever wonders about separation, but slip up and end up on TMZ and the Internet can't wait to discuss how people who continue to support the artist are sheep and fans can't wait to share the mental gymnastics required to keep supporting someone who did something stupid.
No, when times are good rarely do we talk of separation. In fact, we're a lot more forgiving of bad art if we know the person behind it is awesome. Some folks you just want to root for, even when you know good and well what they're putting out is bad.
Luckily for fans of Jessie Ware, this isn't anything they have to think about. Artistically, she's one of the best up-and-coming artists in any genre and, judging by the way she handles herself onstage, she's a pretty awesome person too. Is that the type of wild card that a critic should ignore when reviewing a show? Perhaps.
Then again. live performance is art, and sometimes you can't separate the art from the artist.
Ware operates in a strange portion of the musical landscape.. Her songs aren't bright enough to be anthems, her beats don't bang enough to be dance hits, and while she's soulful, she isn't quite R&B either. Whether you want to call it indie-pop, pop-soul, or sophisti-pop (do you ever feel like Wikipedia writers just make up genres?), the simple fact is that her songs are good.
Live her songs are still good, but they're enhanced by that added human element that live performance brings to the table. Suddenly a track like "Devotion" that seems melancholy, perhaps even ominous, on record becomes irresistibly dancey. You look around and see a bunch of people singing the background vocals to "Taking In Water" and realize that the word "anthem" means different things to different people. She hits that final vocal line in "Running" and yeah, it's still not R&B, but it's got soul for days.
If she were just hitting the stage and delivering rock-solid vocals, going to see Ware live would still be a treat, but what makes her performance really memorable is just how damn friendly she comes off. Whether it was discussing the dangers of eating Tex-Mex before hitting the stage or talking about going to get her legs waxed and inviting the ladies that did said waxing to the show, her stories came off less as "look at how cool I am" and more "life is silly, these things happen, I'm sharing it with you guys."
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Plus, not for nothing, but it's really nice to go to a show and not get some self-empowerment speech that's really just an overlong segue way into a pop hit. Banter really is a lost art in modern music.
Again comes the question: should that sort of thing matter when it comes to reviewing a show? Should not the art stand alone, divorced from stories of Texas food and Instagram?
Look at it this way: when an artist is filled with so much genuine excitement, the crowd -- critic included -- can't not feed off it. These things just happen, and when they do it's awesome. That's something to be celebrated.
There's nothing wrong with being larger than life, but there's nothing wrong with being human either. And if that human happens to have an amazing voice? Well that's just about perfect.
Personal Bias: I think Devotion is a criminally underrated record, but I understand why it's not at the top of the charts.
The Crowd: Young adults not afraid to dance with the music moved them or sing out loud when the spirit grabbed them.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Yeah, I'm using their Wi-Fi because why not?," said my +1, keeping it real.
Random Notebook Dump: "Kanye is selling merch that uses confederate-flag imagery? Thank Yeezus I can watch the Internet freak out in real time between acts."
So How Was the Opener?: Keeton Coffman was on the precipice of disaster thanks to some tuning issues, but not only did he save himself from going over the cliff, he managed to win a lot of the crowd over by being real about what was happening and putting everything he could in to the song once things were fixed. Well done, Keeton.
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