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Whether it was Dua Lipa, Róisín Murphy or Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s kitchen, disco would unexpectedly prove to be one of the defining sounds of lockdown – its opulent escapism helping us to put on a brave, perhaps glitter-strewn face before another Saturday night indoors. Jessie Ware’s 2020 album What’s Your Pleasure? leaned heavily into the genre, seeming to renew her creativity – it became her best-performing album to date.
Entering the stage to a sample from Deee-Lite’s rave pop anthem What Is Love?, the show’s tone is one of neon and luxury. Ware stalks the stage in a turquoise feathered gown; two giant disco balls reveal themselves. Opener Spotlight has the welcome fizz of a surprise bottle of prosecco, while the terrific Ooh La La toys with Tom Tom Club’s Wordy Rappinghood, complete with choppy Chic-style guitars.
“The last time I was here I had one child, now I have three and my mum is more famous than me,” explains Ware to the loudest applause of the night – a reference to her highly successful Table Manners podcast co-hosted with her mother, the no-nonsense social worker Lennie Ware, where guests have included Paul McCartney and a tipsy Ed Miliband.
The contrast between Ware’s newer material and what tonight she jokingly refers to as “the good old miserable days” – meaning the elegant, understated R&B she broke through with a decade ago – affords the set a real variety. Biggest hit Say You Love Me – wearing much of co-writer Ed Sheeran’s sugary generalities – is stripped down as a singalong piano moment. At one point, Ware pauses to wish the audience shalom and a happy Hanukkah (in interviews, she is proud and articulate on her Jewish identity).
The set genuflects to disco’s queer roots by a well-judged, banger-heavy opening DJ set by UK drag artist Jodie Harsh. In sultrier moments, of which there are a few, Ware is lavishly fanned by her blue and pink lit dancers. For a brilliantly steamy encore of the pulsating electronic Hot N Heavy, Ware unveils a microphone whose lead doubles as a black leather whip – leaning into a sense of fun, even camp, once entirely absent from her colour palette. This is scintillating, grown up pop, done with wit and finesse.