I caught Corinne Bailey Rae’s outdoor mini-concert for Jimmy Kimmel Live! on January 29. I was one of the relatively few that were able to secure free tickets through contests and online services that offer free passes to events like this. In fact, I was just lucky enough to catch Corinne’s MySpace bulletin before it was shoved off the front page by other notices I don’t care about. I got my ticket, drove out to the Hollywood and Highland Center to park and walked to the lot behind the El Capitan Theater where the concert was going to be held. I got in line around 5:45 p.m. The concert didn’t start until close to 8 p.m. While waiting in line the thought that such a short concert might not justify all of this standing around did cross my mind now and again. After the show the only thought I had was that Corinne Bailey Rae could have played just one song and the wait would still have been worth it.
I got my ticket through a site called 1Iota. I didn’t study it in-depth, but it looks like the site mostly offers tickets for Jimmy Kimmel Live! and related events. I left work early to compensate for all of the Friday night traffic especially around the Hollywood and Highland Center. I know I’ve written it before, but I’ll write it again: I love parking there. It really does feel like descending through the nine levels of Hell. The radio turns to static. The cell phone loses its signal. Abandon all hope ye who enter here. According to the ticket the show wouldn’t begin until 6:45 p.m. and it was only 5 p.m. when I finally emerged from the last escalator from the depths of the garage. So I killed some time with coffee and cigarettes.
I was introduced to Corinne Bailey Rae’s music by sheer luck. I was driving home one late night, listening to the local saccharine love songs station – mainly because I enjoy yelling disparaging comments about the love letters that the DJs occasionally read – when Put Your Records On started playing. As soon as the first drum beat hit I was hooked. Where did this funky cool song come from? The next day at work I searched for the song and found Corinne Bailey Rae’s MySpace and listened to the song again. I was relieved to find out that I wasn’t crazy. It really was good. On the other hand, how many times had I come across “new music” only to discover that the artist just had the one single that was enjoyable? Fans of Extreme’s More Than Words know what I’m talking about. The MySpace jukebox moved on to Trouble Sleeping and the next thing I knew my coworker was tapping my cubicle to tell me to stop tapping my foot so loud, because the steady syncopation was bothering him. I picked up Corinne Bailey Rae’s debut album shortly after.
Around 5:30 p.m. I downed the rest of my latte and put my cigarette out. The bottom of the ticket had a few paragraphs devoted to stringent personal item policies for the concert. Cameras, purses and cell phones were not allowed so I went back to my car to ditch anything metallic I had on me. Then I headed out to Hollywood Boulevard past the street performers and cosplayers to the lot behind the El Capitan. I had been to the area a few times before. The last time was when I covered a drifting exhibition for the launch of Need for Speed: Undercover. The line for the concert formed against the southern fence facing a local high school. Corinne was in the middle of her sound check and some passersby peered through breaches in the fence to catch a glimpse. Only then did I realize that I still had my cell phone on me. The line was short still and I didn’t want to lose my spot by running back to my car so I shoved my phone into my sock and chanced it. I figured your average event security wouldn’t pat or wave the metal detector paddle down the leg that far. While we waited, the sun set and the high school baseball team ran drills. Some guy in a coupe forced his car into a space between a truck and a four-door that was physically incapable of accommodating his vehicle. Everyone in line watched in horror as he literally shoved the four-door backward with the rear end of his car. He got out after he thought enough eyes had floated to other places, gave a passing glance at the four-door’s front bumper and walked down the street.
Once I had Corinne’s CD, I immediately put it through its paces and tested it out as a driving CD. The first listen through I thought the album was above average and I was able to pick up on tracks that I liked and would probably fast forward to. The drive home was long so I was able to listen to the CD in its entirety a second time and found myself unwittingly enthralled. The first time through I think I had been so focused on searching for radio-friendly songs that I didn’t get to enjoy the blatant details that make Corinne Bailey Rae’s music so good. Before I continue, let me just disclose the fact that I am not very musical. I don’t really have the vocabulary to describe Corinne’s music properly – so please excuse my ham-fisted descriptions – but I do know what I like about it. First, it sounds musically complex. I know that I can listen to her songs and feel embraced by the different layers of sound. Second, each song is a well-written story that’s easily identifiable with. This aspect of her music is particularly impressive to me since I’m a guy. Furthermore, Corinne knows how to tell a story. She doesn’t rush the tale and immediately jump into the chorus. She makes you wait for it because it’s worth waiting for. Finally, the entire album is a finely crafted story unto itself – like the story arc of one season of a television series. Each song details the evolution of someone’s love life. She’s in love with that perfect someone in an imperfect relationship. She has her heart broken. She meets someone new, but guards her feelings, fearful of getting hurt again. She gives in to love and her worst fears are realized when the new relationship crashes and burns. Then she realizes that she’s in love with someone that’s always been there for her. The album ends on a life-affirming note, with one song offering quiet reflection on youth and family and another song advising listeners to muscle through the bad times. For Corinne Bailey Rae fans I’m probably not revealing anything new, but her debut album had a profound effect on me as a writer because this was the first time I was able to find a story thread starting from the first song and ending with the last.
Security opened the gates around 7 p.m. and a guard walked down the line asking everyone to hold up their tickets. He directed everyone’s attention to the “personal items” passage to remind the audience that cameras and bags would not be allowed in the concert.
“If you have these things,” he warned, “you’re going to have trouble getting in.” A trio of girls behind me became agitated, because one of them took the bus to the concert and didn’t have a place to stash her purse. The girls decided that they would have to talk her way in. The guard didn’t mention anything about cell phones so I pulled mine out of my sock. Furthermore, everyone in front and behind me had theirs out to pass the time with text messages in clear view of passing security guards without getting so much as a peep. Besides, when I finally got through the gate I was greeted with full body metal detectors – the kind you have to step through – which made sock-smuggling impossible.
It was standing room only and the row closest to the stage was already full, but luckily I was able to secure a spot behind two shorter girls. I photobombed them every time they snapped a picture of themselves with their cell phone. The girl with the bag was able to get through security to join her friends, but had to check her purse in. One of the advantages to being a guy is being able to travel with everything I need in my pants. Yes, that’s a double entendre.
The stage was bare except for the instruments, monitors and a few light and sound crews adjusting the spots and checking equipment to make sure everything was camera-ready. After a while a blurry feed of the in-studio broadcast was projected on the back wall of the stage, but without any sound. Then it cut out and sound was restored. We watched the opening monologue and the interviews with Josh Duhamel and a little person whose name escapes me right now. Then the warm-up guy came out – a bald fellow with a comical face and a natural energy – to get the crowd clapping and ready to scream. Corinne’s band took the stage and I could see Corinne standing in the wing, waiting with some staff to make her appearance. Then her name was announced and she strode on stage dressed in a black sleeveless top and black pants that hugged her body in all the flattering areas, highlighting her lithe figure. She was taller than I had hoped, but met my expectations. She had trimmed her hair since her recent publicity interviews, but it was still long and sprouted from her head like a curly fountain that cascaded down the sides of her face. She smiled and so did I.
Someone onstage with a headset counted down with his fingers and then Jimmy Kimmel appeared behind the crowd to introduce Corinne Bailey Rae on camera and then she immediately launched into her single I’d Do It All Again. I don’t typically go to concerts. I find that the live performances are rarely on par with the studio recordings, at least from the videos of live performances I’ve seen. Also, it’s hard for me to enjoy a live performance unless I’m up close and can really take in the artist. Watching Corinne perform I suddenly appreciated why people go to these things. There were moments that I became numb to the crowd around me and just connected with the music. Admittedly, the fact that Corinne also appeared to be connected to her music definitely helped.
Corinne Bailey Rae is meant to be looked at, like a sunset after a storm or the bill at an expensive restaurant when you’re paying for a party of 12. As such, I love looking at her – beyond her natural and unique beauty. I love the way she moves. Whenever singers who aren’t playing instruments perform live I always pay attention to what they do with their hands and arms. Corinne’s moves weren’t complex, but they were natural – organic. The music moved her, not the other way around. So when she performed Closer and popped her hip sassily and threw smoldering looks at the audience it was one of those actions that made you clap or cheer or whistle, because it was so perfect for the moment.
After the official Jimmy Kimmel Live! recording was over, Corinne played a few more songs for the audience. While she was preparing, someone took advantage of the momentary silence to yell, “Hi!” Corinne smiled and said, “Hi,” in the microphone. Another person yelled, “You’re so cute!” Corinne giggled.
“You’re so silly,” she said – her British accent melted over my eardrums like warm butter – “And so American. They don’t yell these things out in England.” The crowd went crazy as soon as everyone recognized the first few measures of Like a Star. Afterward, she laid everyone out with crowd-favorite Put Your Records On. Corinne has probably sung this song hundreds of times, but she still managed to perform it for us like it was her first. The joy she finds in her music was readily apparent and infectious, to boot. I don’t dance. I can’t dance. I don’t have any rhythm; I’m too self-conscious; and my movements are unnatural. Yet, there I was, dancing in place in spite of myself.
After her set, Corinne thanked everyone for having her and then disappeared into the wing she entered from and I left feeling giddy with heady delight.
I don’t own an iPod. I don’t have any MP3 players at all, actually. So in 2008 the music I played at work came from the Internet. Mostly, I streamed music from Corinne’s MySpace. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she had added some cover tracks, like Steady As She Goes from the Raconteurs. I jumped online to search for more covers she may have done. That was when I discovered that her husband had died unexpectedly. I remember feeling shock and sadness at the news. She was quoted as having said such nice things about her marriage that I knew her loss would devastate her.
From the Daily Mail
Of her husband, she has said: “It really helps having Jason around. It’s hard being away from him when I’m doing promotional tours, but that’s only for a while.
“I’ve also sat at home watching TV while he’s been out gigging, so one of us has always been busy.
“When I’m away, I realise how rare what we have is and can’t wait to get back to it.
“You appreciate the time you have together and if you only get three days at home, you make it a really good three days.”
Bailey Rae has spoken of how her marriage inspired her songwriting, saying previously: “I focus on the fact that it’s not all just warm and fluffy feelings and that it’s work.
“It’s great to argue with someone and know that there’s a real commitment underneath it all – it’s not about slamming doors and walking away, but about working things out.
“I do write a lot about love, I guess, from all these different angles, because it’s a complicated thing and I think it’s worth a couple of songs.”
She continued: “I feel really lucky that I found someone that I want to spend my life with at such an early age.”
No one updated her MySpace page after that. New comments were no longer being published. I feared the worst and worried that Corinne would never recover and that this blooming, rare and wonderful talent would wilt in the sadness. I’m glad to see that her loss didn’t destroy her. I noticed that she still wears her wedding rings and I assume her all-black outfit is part of her mourning process. It may seem macabre, but there was something refreshing about seeing that. It hearkened back to quaint ideas about love and devotion that a part of me still hoped survived somewhere in the world. All around me people can’t wait to get out of their relationships or they take them for granted. While the divorce rate hovers around 50% here’s Corinne Bailey Rae still married even after death. While that thought squashes my innocent fantasies of candlelit dinners with her it also makes Corinne that much more attractive. Who wouldn’t want a woman that devoted by his side?
I know I’ve done a lot of gushing here. I don’t really know Corinne Bailey Rae. I don’t know if she chews with her mouth open. I don’t know what she’s like when she’s in a bad mood and is looking for a scratching post. I don’t know what her favorite movie is. She may like The Notebook for all I know. She could very well be someone I’d never get along with. On the other hand, of what little I do know about her, it’s all evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, I think that people in general withhold their feelings about things and people they like because they’re afraid of looking stupid later when more information becomes available.
For Corinne Bailey Rae, I’m willing to take that risk.
I hope her new album does well and that she has a long and successful career.
Her performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! will air on March 6. Look for the guy near the front row dancing awkwardly with a silly grin on his face.
Corinne Bailey Rae’s new album The Sea is currently available. I suggest you get it.