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Jessie Ware At the W Hotel: Review

Posted by Pamela D. / November 11, 2013

It's a Tuesday night at the W Hotel, and the downstairs bar is buzzing with a typical assembly of the well-heeled and chic. Brandishing fifteen dollar cocktails and swaning leisurely around the small corner stage, the only unexpected element in my evening so far is the total absence of any conversation whatsoever about the exclusive performance everyone is apparently gathered here to see: an intimate and acoustic sample from the debut album of the U.K.'s up and coming Jessie Ware.


In the face of such blasé anticipation, one might suspect that the W Hotel has overpaid for its imported talent. But, no, my bartender assures me, Jessie Ware is, like, the British Alicia Keys! With a tip of my cocktail, I have to agree. Under the influence of producers Dave Okumu, Julio Bashmore, and Kid Harpoon, Ware's music has a definitive R&B feel. Sensual guitars, synth, and downtempo beats are pulled together by confident yet nuanced vocals which never overwhelm the music. The result is a subtle but intensely grooving album, dripping in sensuality even on the most pop-inspired tracks.

The clock strikes midnight and in strolls Ware, without flourish. She is fresh from an evening performance at the Corona Theatre, where the lesser mortals of Montreal's music scene are content to suffer their mass entertainment. Not so at the W. Here the crowd maintains its chilly self absorption, and Ware is allowed to assume the stage without so much as a whoop or holler.

While my cocktail is being replenished, Ware settles into her first song. The chatter of the crowd rises to a high din, struggling to maintain itself over and above the subtle strains of Ware's unplugged track. This isn't just the feigned ambivalence of ultra-cool industry insiders; no one is actually listening. Barely able to hear the music, I press my way through the crowd and up to the front of the small stage. By the time I get there Ware has stopped playing and is staring with open hostility into crowd. She is, in fact, totally pissed.

What did she say, I ask someone in the crowd. They shrug blandly and return to their conversation.
Without further comment Ware dismounts the stage and walks away. Not just away, I realize: she is in the midst of entirely storming out. The crowd does not register her disappearance, and I am left with a two-drink, thirty dollar bar tab (roughly the ticket price to Ware's Corona Theatre performance), and having heard no music to review.

Ware has come and gone within the space of fifteen minutes, about the length of time it takes me to saddle up with a bartender bogged down in a barrage of excessively precise drink orders. Do I blame Ware? Can I blame Ware? In this sea of egotistical excess, I have to give her more credit than a finely tuned sense for pop-star theatricality. Yet if Ware has made a statement this evening, the crowd never heard it. The after-party rages on, with or without its figurehead.

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