Many musicians have filled the vast concave walls of Colston Hall with eloquent harmonics; this gig was no different. I was invited along to the second gig in Corinne Bailey Rae’s UK autumn tour supported by up and coming soul cat Jodie Abacus. She returned with her stunning new album 'The Heart Speaks in Whispers', her first since 2010, with its continuation of the mellow vibes emitted in her first 2 albums, but this time with the addition of jazzy elements and a transition into contemporary R&B and neo-soul instead of just being singer/songwriter based.
The emergence of Jodie Abacus, who is accompanying Corinne Bailey Rae on her tour, has seen a swift rise to fame this year taking him on multiple tours with the likes of Laura Mvula, Jamie Woon and even playing at Roots Picnic in Philadelphia alongside The Roots, Anderson Paak and Usher. Jodie also played Glastonbury this year as well as other festivals and has been featured on 6 music, BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2, this guy is a soulful supernova, emerging from the eclectic area of South London. He’s currently in the process of putting the finishing touches to his debut album which included multiple collaborations, but the set he played this evening was raw and seemingly stripped back in such a large venue.
Being used to standing, it’s always an obscure feeling to experience a gig whilst in allocated seating, it just feels completely unnatural, however, when the backing vocalist/joint lead guitarist and bassist took to the stage, swiftly followed by Jodie Abacus in his signature wide brimmed hat and even wider grin, the crowd were immediately at ease. The trio appeared somewhat lacking for such a large space, but they filled it with such vigor and verve, Jodie is a true front man, completely and utterly, he exuded charm and sincerity through not only his body language and involvement with the audience but through his relatable soul turned pop lyricism. That’s not to say he avoided sincerity in his penmanship, Jodie was very clear in the interview we did ahead of the show that being completely genuine and honest was the most important aspect of music for him, and it’s what he’s thrived on, that connection.
Jodie’s aptitude at turning somewhat inaccessible and emotionally riddled concepts, such as the refugee crisis and his personal struggle with life threatening with pneumonia into emotionally charged, profound, yet upbeat tracks, giving little excerpts here and there about the origins of his ideas and little glimpses into his life, helped to make the show surprisingly intimate considering the overpowering size of the venue. He managed to turn the negatives into positives and emitted a charismatic energy into the crowd like nobody’s business, especially when he jumped onto the piano to play his track ‘I’ll Be That Friend’. Beforehand he had explained this track was about a dark time in his life where he was struggling with pneumonia and how he just wanted someone that understood what he was going through and to stand by him. He decided through his music, to be THAT person, THAT friend to anyone who was going through a hard time and this is his thematic ideology that flows throughout his music, to be sincere and grounded, to stay humble and to be relatable.
The song that captivated me and has stuck in my mind since the show, was ‘Keep Ya Head Down’, this was based on his perception of a refugee’s mindset and the idea of the grass being greener, yet when you reach that patch of greener grass, the feeling of being unwanted, lost and alone were the overpowering factors. The song had a very husky, bluesy, soulful element to it which made me question if he might have been the love child of Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder or even Marvin Gaye! I feel that this song represents exactly what he was talking about, really trying to emulate the pure essence of the subject matter, simply because of the beauty of using his music as a platform to tackle politically rife concepts as well as creating such energy that people can engage with on more than just a lyrical, conceptual basis, but being musically well put together too, it’s the whole package. This set was the perfect opening act, oozing charm, soul and getting the crowd riled up and chilled out all at the same time; which I have to say, especially in a venue as large and overwhelming as Colston Hall, is a bloody large feat!
Then came the headline act, Corinne Bailey Rae, who’s recent album is an amazing collaboration of chilled out neo-soul, contemporary R&B; with twinkly, ethereal piano notes, a more synthesized, electronic vibe than she had before but very subtle, with husky, sensual vocals, you can pick up on the wry smile aurally whilst she drawls the notes on. She personifies that feeling of total relaxation and effortless cool, mixed with a strange sense of nostalgia for something that hasn’t happened yet and she conveys that so well through her music. I found her performance to be multi-dimensional as I picked up on certain physicality’s that played into the whole performance, such as synchronized drum beats to her clicking, which seemed very sporadic and unplanned which I loved. She articulated well on stage, as though she belonged there, taking out little shakers and creating these harmonious, delicious sounds that complimented her style perfectly.
I enjoyed every musician that accompanied her, I found they all really held their own and shone through, despite Corinne Bailey Rae being the centre of the universe. The keyboardist was seemingly in his own dimension jamming out hard on keys, creating these melodious runs whilst the drummer was perfectly on point with his pauses and jazz rolls, the guitarist was phenomenal, pumping out beautifully strung riffs that echoed jazz, pyschedelia, neo-soul wonderment, with the notes ringing out and a heavily ambient vibe reminiscent of a mixture between Tom Misch, Snarky Puppy and Pink Floyd, a modern twist with classic hints! Not only that, but I’m pretty sure every single member of the band was a multi talented pool of musical capability, hot damn, hardcore harmonizing seemed to be the underlying theme of the evening!
It felt like a strangely organic and sensory experience, the lighting was soothing especially when ‘Green Aphrodisiac’ played, the lighting matching the colour of the track and I remember closing my eyes and it was almost a feeling of being underwater, or in a dream. The mood lighting changed with each song and the atmosphere, which was amazing, at points felt ‘womb like’ in its encompassing, warm and comforting feel. During ‘Green Aphrodisiac’ she engaged the room in some audience participation, she split the audience and got us to sing along to the bridge of the song, which usually I’d be a bit snobby about and find it rather distasteful but, for some reason I can’t criticise it, she did it with such childlike joy and gratitude!
Midway through the set she played a somewhat more mellowed cover of Bob Marley’s classic, ‘Is This Love’ and it was of course a real crowd pleaser, her husky, soulful tones doing the track real justice. She stayed true to her roots and with an acoustic guitar, performed some key older tracks, such as ‘Till It Happens To You’, stylizing with the band, bulking it up a bit and adding a lot of jazzy little inklings, but it was great to see her play songs that I remember listening to when I was younger. It was ten years ago that she released her debut album, these tracks took me straight back to those long, carefree summers of innocence.
By the time the poppy and playful notes of ‘Horse Print Dress’ rang out across the hall, the audience had starting rousing and couldn’t contain their funk, heads started popping up all around me, of course I was up before the wave of humans, I couldn’t help myself, it was lively! When ‘Girl Put Your Records On’ dropped, things really were taken to the next level, the whole crowd was up on their feet, Corinne Bailey Rae popped into the audience, wandered around, had a dance, was singing with everyone and just enjoying the whole experience. It was amazing to be involved in one of the first gigs of this UK tour after she had spent some time in America earlier in the year, that fresh faced enthusiasm, the novelty of touring, and performing to large audiences was new and exciting again, this really seeped into her performance!
A standing ovation long before she’d even finished the show, and of course we all stayed dancing for the duration of it. She eventually, much to the disappointment of the crowd and I, got to her last song, encored with ‘Just Like A Star’. Which was an obscure end to such an upbeat, energetic rest of the show, especially with everyone up on their feet. Although, it was a very profound moment, merging the love of older, loyal fans, and the newer ones with a classic summer anthem that just so happened to be her debut single that was released in 2005!
Leaving the show I felt light on my feet and vowed to see the world in warm, green-tinted glasses, at least for the rest of the night, I was left in a fuzzy, energetic bubble of Jodie Abacus and Corinne bailey Rae’s making!
Review by Sadie Fox