Wowed by Jessie Ware.

Jessie Ware

Despite being on my juice cleanse and her stage time being 11pm, I ventured out last night to see Jessie Ware, the British darling of the music world last year with her debut album Devotion. The album is certainly one of my personal standouts from 2012 and I cannot wait for her to fully expand her prowess in 2013.

As part of the TNK festival at Lincoln Hall, Ware took the stage promptly after 11 and apologized for the lateness and couldn’t believe “the fucking cold.” That’s Chicago for you in January, though.

With only one album under her belt, Ware tore through a 50-minute show with more guts & gusto than is found on the album. With a 3-piece band behind her, Ware was vocally stronger and showed off a range that feels a little understated within the electronic hum of the album.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyY5upiRO8Q

Songs like “Taking in Water,” dedicated to her younger brother, truly came to life with more gravitas. Her biggest hit, “Wildest Moments,” inspired couples in the audience to clutch to one another despite the song having somewhat of a bittersweet lyric.

> Watch a rendition of “Taking in Water” below:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGkPx4gxvn8

My favorite moments would have to be the interpolation of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” laid atop “No To Love,” one of the album’s funkier tracks that I just love. “Sweet Talk” also just had that delightful groove of late 80s Anita Baker gone pop.

> Watch a rendition of “Sweet Talk” below:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0TrD96ry4w

Ware, decked out in trademark crop-top and high-waisted harem pants, was absolutely charming and a gracious singer. My friend Anthony told me before the show that her sister had a breakout role in the Chicago-based television series “Boss,” featuring Kelsey Grammar. So imagine how much we shit ourselves when she herself brought up the same reference. Ware was a cross between the demeanor of Tracey Ullman and the style of Lisa Bonet in a chunkier, Dee-Lite style heel.

> Check out Anthony’s photos from the show.

The other standout moments for me were “Swan Song” and the cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love,” which can be found on the new E.P. IF You’re Never Gonna Move. Oddly enough, Ware’s album had been on iTunes but she herself made a joke last night that it was ripped off the store and should be ‘officially’ out in the states in April.

You can pick up the EP below on iTunes and scour the web for Devotion if you’re down for such things.

If You're Never Gonna Move - EP - Jessie Ware

Best find a surgeon.

Last night I saw St. Vincent for the first time at the 312/Goose Island block party. She was pretty fantastic and I think I’m dedicating today to revisiting her catalog in full and giving her a more concentrated listen.

Favorite track, though, is “Surgeon.”

And this live version especially:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjZgiv2F1QY

Of course, the event was this weird amalgamation of hipsters, older folks, beer lovers and gays. So there you have it. Within that context, St. Vincent makes total sense.

It’s funny, I remember hearing her years ago right before her debut came out and I was a very passive listener. But her live show was much more raucous than I think how her albums play out so it’ll be good to revisit.

Things I’ve also been digging this week; I’m trying to be less playlist-making and more ‘This is how the artist built it, I shall listen to it as an entire composition’ about my listening habits.

Brandi Carlile, Bear Creak

Passion Pit, Gossamer

Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

Fiona Apple sings, screams at Chicago Theatre

Bone-thin and wiry, Fiona Apple has learned to let out the beast inside her when she performs. Tapping into a primal yelp that is less apparent on her records, Apple spent much of her show last night in Chicago going from soft whispers to strong vibrato to shouting screams. And for a 34-year-old recluse, you’d be surprised of the amount of power that she can exude on the stage – when she isn’t sitting down right in the middle of it, mind you.

Having only four albums under her belt in the span of sixteen years, it seems that paper bags biodegrade faster than Apple puts out new material. But what she does release is always worth the wait. She’s not of the same fabric as a Gaga or Rihanna, churning out manufactured hits from a pop factory. Each of Apple’s albums is crafted from inner-turmoil, love, despair, awareness of self-destruction and an acceptance of who she is, which is to say an extraordinary machine.

This was the fourth time I’ve seen Apple and she’s clearly changed as a live performer. From the first two tours, she was more concerned about singing and explaining herself. The last two have become more frenetic, with nearly no speaking and a lot of lurking in the background when not vocalizing.

What seems odd to me is that I wonder what it must be like for her to put together a set list, knowing that she has a limited back catalog to build from and knowing how young she was when having written songs like “Criminal,” which must seem somewhat irrelevant but yet the biggest hit of her career.

The show was a packed 90 minutes with a number of fan favorites, including one of my own, the haunting and bitter “Get Gone.” Only four songs from the new album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, made an appearance, with probably the most captivating being “Werewolf” and “Daredevil,” a song that I’ve fallen in love with completely.

Check out the album version of “Daredevil” –

httpa://youtu.be/cBdJ6zZhyp8

I also wonder if this entire tour is a bit forced, knowing that the recent album is probably old news to her – it sat on a shelf by Apple’s own choosing to wait out label hierarchical changes. Could it be that she’s emotionally moved on, too?

Although Apple seems to have become more comfortable with the actual performing, but not of the responsibility to stand upon a stage and be looked upon when not singing. Several times she gyrated and undulated to the band’s outro jams, slowly collapsing onto the floor, cross-legged like a six-year-old.

My only issue with her as a live performer is that she screams to the point of losing all the intricate melodies that make her recorded music so rich and worth repeated listening. I find it also odd that she doesn’t really reinterpret or mix up the songs that much and keeps a ‘rock’ vibe to the show, when it’s apparent through performances of “Extraordinary Machine” or the Conway Twitty cover “It’s Only Make Believe,” her voice is best when not forced and when couched in an acoustic arrangement.

If ever a person could be the 21st century reincarnation of tin pan alley music, it would be Apple. And what’s unfortunate is that there were not more covers or songs performed in this style.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yToh1PoYb6k

As the show unfolded, you got the sense that Apple really is made for the creation of music and not necessarily the performing. She drifted around the stage like a girl lost, seeming disconnected from the audience and lost within the music and herself. Perhaps it’s my own selfish desire to want more dialogue from her or at least an attempt to connect with an audience that is known for being die-hard and loyal as the day is long.

But maybe it’s the aloofness we find so captivating and what keeps us coming back for more. The air of mystery is working for Apple in ways that other pop contemporary musicians have abandoned for total transparency on Twitter, Instagram or their own 3D films.

With Apple, it’s always been about connecting with the music. Maybe she’s right not to dilute the power of her work and she’s keeping it (and the rest of her) as something sacred. And as she says herself, she’s free to do anything she wants.

httpa://youtu.be/EfXvIs9bojM

I recommend you purchase The Idler Wheel today. And if you are new to Apple, I’d also start with When the Pawn.

*Edit: I forgot to mention that as the house lights went down for the first song in the show, a woman had a seizure right in front of my friend and I and it was utterly terrifying and a mess.

More tour interludes please, Madonna.

Madonna is currently on a worldwide tour for her latest album, MDNA. Having seen her on her last three tours, I opted out. Of course I’m kind of hee-hawing about whether I’ll go and get a ticket right before she comes to Chicago, but I feel as though I’ve completed a trinity of tours and the last one was lackluster at best. I’ll blame the album, Hard Candy, for setting the tone for that tour.

One of the best parts of any Madonna show are the interludes. These are mini-films set to reinterpreted versions of her songs that usually play on the screens while they are switching out sets or costumes and usually act as a bookend to that section of a show.

It blows my mind how her interludes are actually better than a lot of her music videos. Perhaps that’s because they are short & sweet, soundtracked by songs we already know/love and show Madonna doing what she does best – work a camera.

With the first, Madonna makes her usual political statement about the world. This is something we’ve come to expect:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3ApCeN7M7c

These two videos espouse the same planetary call-to-arms from the divine Madonna:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLHibA36rLw

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrqQ6sj9YEs

Another one from the current show:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LsUOcc02rI

And as much I just loathed the last tour, it did give us this, which makes its way onto my workout playlists all the time thanks to the Mortal Kombat.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4_kDcWn_PM

Then there are the artsy ones, which may have two of the best opening films she’s done:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz94CchwjTY

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cliUcNOyxZA

So in other words…I would like her to stop making weird or crappy music videos on a shoestring budget and instead get the people who are making these interesting, dare-I-say more artistic pieces to helm the camera for any songs that she’s (I’m laughing as I write this) hoping to release as a single for commercial and mainstream success. Sorry, I barely could get through that.

Fact is, I don’t know if mainstream is where Madonna is anymore. It’s not that she’s not cool, but she’s just not surfing the wave of where culture is at like she used to. As I was talking to my friend, I realized that poor Madonna has been a trailblazer in nearly every facet of her career and the last place she’ll be the first to venture into is old age. Not that I’m saying she’s old, but she’s clearly in the midst of an identity crisis in terms of what the public want and expects and what she wants to continue pursuing artistically. Sex was great, but with 20-year-olds nipping at your heels, and a supportive fan base that’s been with you for over three decades, it’s time to figure out what it is you’ve got left to say and how to say it.

Part of Katy Perry

I have a confession. I used to adamantly avoid Katy Perry with a passion. Sure, I loved “I Kissed A Girl” like everyone else but soon just dismissed this boisterous, dorky, loud-mouthed pretty girl even before the revelation came down that she was raised in a devout Christian home and (so we were led to believe) turned her back, sang about snogging a girl and hit the big time.

However, Katy hooked me with her somewhat sleeper hit “Thinking of You.” For whatever reason, the song resonated completely with me at the time and would resonate with me many times later. Disconcerting because it’s a song about longing to be with a former lover while you’re in the throws of a new relationship. Yep, totally an awkward but relatable topic. Pining for the past, Perry and I were united.

Continue reading Part of Katy Perry

Red latex.

httpv://youtu.be/NLz9CjdWzPE

Saw Tori Amos last night, where the theme seemed to be ghosts. It was a fantastic show with the string quartet, but definitely a dark/somber affair. “Leather” was one of the more fiery moments and interesting pieces with the quartet. Can we talk about the red latex leggings and heels? Yowza. Other favorites of the night were “The Beekeeper,” “Cruel,” “Siren,” a cover of “Landslide,” and “Cloud on my tongue.” The last song certainly has always been a favorite and has one of my favorite lyrics of all time in it. Weird how much it resonated with me over the course of the evening.

Adele & Her Love For Beyonce

This week I went with Michael to see Adele, who has become one of my favorite singers thus far in my life. And after seeing her live, I’m pretty sure she’s got the best set of pipes I’ve heard on a human. Stunning, effortless power and such a sweet, charming woman. Adele is seriously in love with Beyonce and attributed her own long hair as her ‘Beyonce weave.’

There were a few songs that I teared up on, I’ll admit. Adele’s show at the Riviera was packed and while Oprah wasn’t there, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel certainly was and got the crowd all excited – especially when he fist pumped or did the Arsenio Hall arm stir.

The highlights were of course “Rolling in the Deep,” which has been at #1 for five weeks on the singles charts here. Other greats were “Rumor Has it,” “Someone Like You” and “Don’t You Remember.” However, one of the songs that I guess I never really took in while listening to 21 – which you need to just do yourself the favor and buy, seriously – was “One and Only.” When it started, Michael turned to me and whispered out another of his “Yesssss!” moments when any of his favorites were starting. By the time the bridge of the song hit, I was weeping. There I said it. Not like a mess, but I had to wipe my face. I think it meant something because he was there with me, we were sharing this.

Regardless, here’s the album version. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Buy Adele’s 21 here:

21 - ADELE

You shine it.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NKUpo_xKyQ

On Wednesday, the eve of my 28th birthday, I saw Ellie Goulding with my friends Shan and Jarod from Indianapolis and one of my besties Jonathan. It seems to be the bad luck of our clan or something, but she was under the weather and only played for an hour and I suspect that she was contractually obligated to do so because T-Mobile was broadcasting the show live across the web to the UK. While she was great, you could tell she was sick and not feeling it at all. But she still put on a great show and said she’d be back to do a proper one.

Continue reading You shine it.

Just lean into the crack.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1icGUVn77PM

This has to be one of my favorite live DVDs of all time. It’s a delightful show performed in an opera house. Bjork is one of the few people left who I would pay top dollar to see. I feel she’s an experience.

I loved this song off Vespertine. And I enjoy the inuit choir she has backing her on this version. The song is simple and really pretty. And the words? Killer.

They are Scissor Sisters, and so are We.

Thursday evening I went to see the Scissor Sisters with my friends Shan and Jarod from Indianapolis. It.was.fucking.spectacular. Today is Sunday and the ringing in my ears has finally subsided and while I attribute that to the band being absolutely amazing and playing a show that was the concert-version of a gay bathhouse, the Riviera’s sound was awful for most of the evening. Just too damn loud and it was as if no one bothered to turn down the bass so that we could hear the singers properly. But that was my only complaint.

Continue reading They are Scissor Sisters, and so are We.