Saturday, 18 June 2011

Reviewed: Jamie Woon at Shepherd's Bush Empire

I went to watch and shoot Jamie Woon at the O2 Empire in Shepherd's Bush a little while ago, and it was actually pretty good. I'd ignored the Woon press barrage, mostly cos I thought "Night Air" was kinda boring, but his voice is actually AWESOME. Also, being in the photography pit with a bunch of pompous dudes was hilarious. 

Note: even with your huge phallic lens, you still gotta have the balls to clamber over people to get the shot. Real Talk.
Genre-smashing is the domain of London’s Jamie Woon. In case you missed the press flurry around his name at the start of the year, Woon was placed fourth on BBC’s Sound of 2011 list and marked as one to watch. Truth be told, he really is a joy to watch. He doesn’t rely on huge stage theatrics or dramatic physicality but the raw talent that pours from his most important instrument: his voice. Shepherd’s Bush Empire trembled with its resonance on this, the last of his venue dates before his festival tour begins.

With a heart-warming modesty, effortless on-stage presence and rather strong catalogue of material, Woon shone on the Empire stage. It’s pretty clear, given his BRIT School credentials, that Woon would have at least a basic performance flair. However, what was surprising to watch was how he ballooned that performance with every song, seeming to swell in size as his comfort on stage grew. The dynamic builds and subtle crescendoes of the opening number set the scene and showed the crowd his scope. Woon’s band each contributed well to that hard-to-pin-down soul and r’n'b soundscape that he occupies, playing with a relentless energy and passionate abandon.

Whether playing the groove-heavy keys lines or driving drum patterns, each member of Jamie’s band helped to craft that somewhat elusive genre that constitutes the bulk of his music. You can hear elements of Donell Jones’ vocal, Jill Scott’s sincerity and D’Angelo’s tortured laments in the same songs that carry the electronic minimalism scattered throughout his debut album, Mirrorwriting. It’s like watching neo-soul and post-dubstep play a friendly tug-of-war where neither side necessarily ever wins. It’s languid, inquisitive and decidedly well-rehearsed.

Woon’s strongest ammunition stock, however, has to be his voice. At points it was the only part of his performance that kept my interest and was able to lock the audience into his compositions. He has a vocal richness not often heard outside strictly r’n'b circles, and used it to great effect, notably in his solo encore. Stripped down to guitar, vocals and a loop pedal he launched into a flawless rendition of ‘Spirits’ just when people started to worry he wouldn’t play it. When singing over a distorted and gritty guitar, the round sweetness of his voice was magnified, and we were all reminded of what he is capable of as a sole player on stage.

Complex, polished and professional, Woon delivered an emotive performance that shows the bigwigs at the BBC do get it right sometimes.

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