Jessie Ware was not prepared for the Bowery Ballroom last night, and neither was I. That is not to say that she was sloppy in her performance; in fact, it went off smoothly and efficiently, with highs hitting soaring pinnacles and lows hitting devastating valleys. That is also not to say that she was not a good performer; quite the opposite really, as she harnessed the intimacy of the venue and turned it back on her audience with her powerful voice and low-key stage presence. No, Jessie Ware was not prepared for one thing and one thing only: adoration. Her crowd was just that: hers. Every song came with raucous applause and almost Beatlemania levels of screaming.
It was astounding to see and hear, and I don’t think that Ware took it lightly. Breaking into smiles as wide as her voice is impressive, she was left almost speechless by just how loved she was. “I’m normally a lot chattier to pass time between songs,” she said. “I am not chatty tonight.”
That talent was on full display, as Ware went through a comprehensive tour of her recorded output, mostly focusing on last year’s Devotion. She kicked things off with the title track and its pleading, “I need your devotion,” refrain that took a different vibe when accompanied by a backing chorus of audience members. She had the room’s devotion, at the very least. Wearing a blazer and a dope gold chain, Ware’s movements were subtle throughout, mostly consisting of sways appropriate for her catalog: Devotion is an album full of moments as subtle as a hip roll but as powerful as a high note carefully orchestrated and sequenced.
In a way, Ware is almost old-fashioned in her soulfulness, allowing her music and her lyrics to be what you remember, at least in partnership with her aw-shucks sense of self-awareness. It’s what allows a moment like, “Last time I played in New York, Kim Kardashian’s cat died. Now they’re having a baby. This one is for Kim and Kanye,” to come off as endearing rather than pandering. It also allows her to almost cry because an audience member gives her a bouquet (no, really) before dedicating album closer, “Something Inside,” to that same person. That song’s jittery verses give out to allow Ware to take center stage, yet she doesn’t unload her best wail (that comes later); instead, she stares out into the crowd and drops her volume to a whisper, carefully spoken through strands of hair, right into your subconscious.
Towards the end of the brisk set, Ware joked that she had been on Fallon the previous night and that, “the Roots are pretty good, eh? That drummer… Yeah, he’s good.” A sheepish grin came across her face as she then segued into “Wildest Moments,” arguably her best song yet and what I presumed would be her encore, the song she played to hammer home that she’s a superstar (as if this crowd needed that assurance). However, she threw a pleasant curveball afterwards, saying, “This is our last song. I don’t believe in encores. You all have to sleep and go to work tomorrow, so yeah. Last song.” It’s refreshing for an artist to subvert a trope as traditional as the headliner encore, so when the last notes of “Running” rang out and she walked off stage as the house lights came on, the clapping and cheering wasn’t for, “One. More. Song.” It was a sincere and appreciative “Thank you.”