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Emily King
Emily King
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

Hopping on Emily King's Zooming Bandwagon

Emily King
The Heights Theater
April 24, 2019

When Emily King finished singing “Georgia” near the end of her well-received set at The Heights Theater last night, she took note of those who sang along in the audience.

“You know you sound good. Let’s take this on the road!” she said, which garnered big cheers from the room. “You wanna ride with us? If we all sit on each others’ laps I think we can squeeze into the van.”

Those who were at the show proved wherever the pop-and-soul singer-songwriter is going, they’re definitely along for the ride. It’s a thrilling one, after all. King’s melodies stick, like those tiny bug splatters your vehicle is adorned with from a long Sunday drive. Her voice is a luxury vehicle, smooth but able to ramp up the horsepower when necessary. Justin Timberlake said he loves her voice and Sam Smith has called King an “unreal talent.” Those are some pretty good passengers to have on the bandwagon.

King’s going places, too. She passed through town last night from a pair of weekend sets at Coachella, which she said was the biggest fest she’d ever played when she spoke with the Houston Press last week. Her vehicle has made recent stops at Late Night with Seth Meyers and CBS This Morning, where a sit-down interview focused on her knack for writing lasting songs. Her latest release, Scenery, is a critical success, and King steered her set in that direction, offering eight of its 12 tracks to a grateful Houston audience.

Anyone who might have arrived to the show without a proper working knowledge of the artist needed just the set’s opener, “Remind Me,” to be reminded of some of King’s influences. The end of that song recalls Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Wishing Well,” but onstage she summons the specter of Prince in so many ways. She’s got an androgynous vibe, the sort that permeated the ‘80s pop scene which has apparently influenced King. She’s got a preferred color (at least last night she did), though it’s not purple. She and the entire band wore black and when she played guitar, the instrument blended in. By the end of her second song, the empowerment call out “Can’t Hold Me,” she and her backup singers were dancing in step, like Morris Day and The Time. She even donned fingerless lace gloves, a staple fashion item of the Prince-MTV era.

King’s stage presence was also a little reminiscent of the Purple One, particularly during songs that built steam from a whisper, like the soulful scorcher “Blue Light” from the new album. Watching her feel the song and emote onstage was like rewinding the VCR back to Prince doing “The Beautiful Ones” in Purple Rain.

King and company are headed places
King and company are headed places
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

The appeal, of course, is that these songs are not Prince songs and what King is doing is not a rehash of music eras gone by, but all new material that she’s given life to and audiences who may never have heard of Prince (if there are any on some distant planet) would still enjoy on their own considerable merits. Some of the best of the night were “Teach You,” a frustrated sigh about the idea of having to teach a lover how to love. That one included a very funky breakdown and a good degree of crowd participation. “BYIMM,” another song of self-reliance, drew a big response from the crowd and the pre-encore set closer, “Distance,” arguably her biggest hit, had the crowd grooving.

The thing that’s incredible to think while watching her perform is that King is no novice. She’s had a solid career that’s already included being Grammy-nominated, signing with Clive Davis’s label and performing with the likes of John Legend, Alicia Keys and Maroon 5. Her new album is giving her the fuel to zoom into a higher stratosphere, which is a very good thing for anyone who loves good music. If you’re not on the bandwagon yet, now’s the time to climb aboard.

The Opener: California’s Jennah Bell found an eager audience at her disposal last night. Her songs, which are mostly quiet ruminations and featured her plus guitar in The Heights’ spotlight, did not include any call and response. But, she did gauge and engage the crowd by simply saying, “Hi.”

“Hi!” the audience responded in unison, on cue,...maybe even in tune?

That’s all the appealing songwriter needed to win the ready masses over, but she made some fans for life with the folky soul of songs like “Another Louisiana” and “John Forbid,” both from her own new album, Anchors & Elephants, and a rendition of the standard “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” a song she said she promises to retire from her set every night, but keeps revisiting. Judging by the “Sing it, girl!” and “Go Jennah!” cries from the crowd, they’ll be revisiting this artist’s songs, too.

Jennah Bell
Jennah Bell
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

Personal Bias: I admit, I am a new member of the Emily King bandwagon and only learned of this gifted artist by way of a friend, who is one of the Houston cousins King mentioned in our interview. After seeing many Facebook posts from this friend about King, I started clicking the video links she’d posted and obviously liked what I heard. I mentioned to King she'd earned at least one new fan this way and she said, “Thanks, Ali!” and so, I guess I am saying it too, here and now. Thanks, Ali!

The Crowd: Very music and concert savvy. Aside from two women who were involved in some sort of skirmish in the lobby, far from the music (and were quickly ejected), the gathered was respectful of the quiet songs and listened to the lyrics intently. When the moment called for it, they weren’t above whooping for King and Bell, but it was all done out of appreciation for the music.

Overheard in the Crowd: “They sounded good. As good as people can sound.” One concert-goer defending the crowd’s group vocals on “Georgia” to her partner.

Random Notebook Dump: Shame, shame, everybody knows my name because I’m calling myself out for not having been to The Heights Theater before last night’s show. The place is a wonder, very intimate and designed by people with years of experience to bring joy to the lives of those who hear music within its walls. Best of all, several Houston musicians and artists work in the venue, which means music aficionados are practically getting an experience those artists themselves would want if they were on the Heights stage performing. Can’t wait for my second-ever visit, in just 60 hours or so to see Liz Phair.

Emily King Set List

Remind Me

Can’t Hold Me

The Switch

Radio

Look At Me Now

The Animals

Forgiveness

Blue Light

Teach You

Down

Every Part

Off Center

2nd Guess

BYIMM

Sleepwalker

Distance

Georgia

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