Corinne Bailey Rae Opens for Norah Jones
A flawless opening set and a wonderful way to spend a warm August evening.
Long time readers know that this site is primarily film-centric and that I am primarily a movie reviewer and part-time celebrity interviewer. While I haven’t studied music enough to write about it intelligently, I appreciate it enough to share my thoughts, experiences and opinions whenever an artist tickles my fancy – which explains why the Music Section doesn’t get updated often unless one of my freelancers take pity on me and actually write something for that category. With that said, I’m a big fan of Corinne Bailey Rae and you can read about my history with her music in this earlier article. So whenever she’s performing locally, I now make it a point to check out her performance. Currently, Corinne Bailey Rae has been touring as a special guest with Norah Jones and I attended their concert at The Greek Theater in Los Angeles, Calif. on August 25. It was a fantastic and flawless evening and I recommend any lover of good live music to catch the show if and when it comes to town.
Refreshingly, the concert started a little early, which meant that quite a few people were still finding their seats when Corinne Bailey Rae – dressed in a slim one-piece jumpsuit – took the stage with her band. She gave a friendly comment regarding the crowds still walking up aisles and sidestepping down rows and opened with “Are You Here” from her newest album The Sea. I was impressed with the choice considering that the song was so personal. In her updated bio Bailey Rae is quoted regarding the song as saying, "I feel like I've been playing music and writing and using music to help me with all the different emotions that I've been feeling. When I started writing that I was thinking, I don't really want this song to go into the world, 'cause it's so naked….” Yet here she was baring her soul with a good portion of the audience still distracted. For my part, I was busy convincing a woman that she was in my seat and that her seat was actually a level up.
Finally situated, I was able to fully take in the set. The next few songs from Bailey Rae were a mix of numbers from her debut and sophomore albums as well as a cover of “I Only Have Eyes for You”. With “Closer” Bailey Rae set down the guitar to move with the music, beckoning the audience toward her with airy waves of her arms. Then, in the fading light of the setting sun, she made the moment magical with her vulnerable performance of “Till It Happens to You”, which had been updated from the album with a bluesy extension towards the end. It was her cover of “I Only Have Eyes For You”, however, that converted new fans of people who weren’t formerly familiar with her music. There was a collective sigh of astonishment as the last measure faded into the night and concertgoers could visibly be seen nodding their approval to each other. Then Bailey Rae followed up with my favorite song from her new album “I Would Do It All Again”. Her voice was flawless and her performance was mesmerizing. Afterward, I realized I’d forgotten to take notes during the song.
Before she performed the next number, Bailey Rae encouraged the audience to “Feel free to sing along if you know the words” signaling to fans that “Put Your Records On” was coming. It never ceases to amaze me how someone can perform a hit song over and over again with the same energy and connection, without it sounding contrived. Another up-tempo song – “The Blackest Lily” – followed, allowing Bailey Rae to have a little fun as she cast mischievous grins at the audience. She also showcased the band with extended rock guitar licks by John McCallum and a short drum solo by Luke Flowers. After the end of the song, fans were calling out requests, but as soon as Bailey Rae started singing “Like a Star” the audience seemed to express its collective satisfaction and then fell silent. It’s one of those songs that seem to stifle all conversation and focus all attention on the performer. With the stage bathed in soft, blue light and Corinne Bailey Rae singing with her eyes gently closed, she looked genuinely happy, making the crowd palpably curious as to what she was thinking of to connect with the song, though we can all probably guess.
Regrettably, during “I Would Like to Call It Beauty” car alarms started blaring from the parking lot at The Greek Theater, yet they somehow managed to stay in perfect syncopation with the song and didn’t affect the performance. The band, composed of keyboardist Steve Brown, drummer Luke Flowers, guitarists John McCallum and Jennifer Birch and bassist Kenny Higgins, is a truly great sounding ensemble. Throughout the evening they showed musical discipline without coming off stiff and their harmony is a warm, inviting blend.
The highlight of Corinne Bailey Rae’s set was her finale. She expressed regret that her time on stage was coming to an end and left us with a bluesy, soul revival cover of Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera”. John McCallum added a wonderful punch with extra vocals, inciting applause and cheers from the audience, which elicited hapless smiles from McCallum while he sang, blown up to larger than life proportions on the Jumbotrons. The performance ended with a heavy rock finish and gospel-like energy. After it was over, we all felt saved.
Then with a friendly wave, Corinne Bailey Rae was gone.
Corinne Bailey Rae’s new album The Sea is currently available.
* Photo courtesy of Christine Collister