Jessie Ware @ O2 Academy Oxford – 11/03/13

There’s a very different crowd inside the O2 Academy tonight. Gone are the tattoo sleeves, the knitted beanies and the thinning band t-shirts. Gone is the ‘young’ demographic and the healthy boy-girl ratio. The sticky floors of the Academy tonight are trodden by stilettos and glammed-up dolls ready to party to the electronic soul of Jessie Ware. It’s like a Saturday night out.

Sporting just as much glam as the hundreds before her, Jessie Ware takes to the stage like a seasoned performer, though she’s only been on the live circuit for a couple of years. The vacant electronics of ‘Devotion’ gently welcome in Jessie’s unique brand of modern soul, her voice soaring strong to the back of the room.

‘Still Love Me’ (arguably one the most intelligently composed tracks on her debut Mercury-nominated album, Devotion) builds up sporadic layers of funk with guitars jarring against heavy beat-box rhythms. It’s wonderful to hear variations from the studio recording, with the live guitar chiming loud above the track’s dubby and disparate elements.

Oddly, the single that first put her in the spotlight last year, ‘If You’re Never Gonna Move’ (originally released as ‘110%’) is performed just 15 minutes into the set. Playfully jumping between harmonies and in full control of the synth kit before her, Jessie sings the track with complete conviction and is clearly having as much fun onstage as the lively crowd below.

Shortly afterwards it becomes apparent that the gig really is all about Ms Ware, and it begins to grate. Perhaps it is growing up seeing bands at gigs that has caused this slight frustration, but it feels like the session musicians’ talents are simply hidden in the dark at the back of the stage.

New song, ‘Imagine It Was Us’ (co-written by Julio Bashmore) sounds absolutely enormous with its stoic bass, towering vocals and driving dance beats – surely a future hit ready to be unleashed on the world.

Answering earlier prayers, Jessie welcomes drummer Dornik Leigh to sing with her on ‘Valentine’ (a song that she usually duets on with Sampha). Dornik’s vocals are low and warm and perfectly compliment Jessie’s high notes. It really breaks up the monotony of Ms Ware having to tirelessly entertain the crowd.

The downtempo of ‘Wildest Moments’ begins to calm the excitable crowd following bouncy tracks like ‘Sweet Talk.’ Its ballad-like chorus really boasts Jessie’s vocal ability and confidence as a performer.

But just when you think the Monday night party is over, Jessie gets everyone sweaty again to the fast beats and smooth soul of ‘Running’. In all honesty, it could have gone on all night.