As far as present-day singers go, Celeste offers a fitting combination of enigmatic presence and vocal quality, and the noir texture of this production project adds unique experience to her portfolio.
The penultimate night as part of a sold-out five-night residency, the soul- jazz singer is making the most of this run of shows. There is a profound sense that this artist in residency stint could represent a radical deal-breaker and play a role in building her reach as a mainstream artist. A singer with a vocal scope of width and depth – mainly positioned in mezzo-soprano range – Celeste’s fourth show is an ambitiously assembled sonic spectacle of orchestral and dark cinematic quality.
The width and depth of the Brighton-raised, California-born singer’s voice truly comes to life during this show. Sounding fragile, almost hesitant at times, her other extreme is the force of someone, who’s capable of cutting glass and sing their lungs out at full force. The airy vocal huskiness also stands in some contrast to the voluminous, substantial texture. Her vocal complexity is as pronounced as that.
With fourteen songs on display - and one encore – it is obvious there’s thought behind the compiled tracks, with enough to take in and enjoy, and the seated audience wants more. The combination of enthusiastic cheers, clapping and ovation - at the end - is an indicator of Celeste’s popularity.
Introducing the show with ‘Ideal Woman’ is understated, yet highly effective. She starts out acapella, before a cellist joins her in support. A slight step up in volume intensity is built through the second track ‘Lately’, with the groovy single beat and Aretha Franklin-inspired vocals.
"Sometimes, I want to say something, but I don't quite know what to say” Celeste declares with honesty. It is now time for some proper dingy, smoky jazz club vibes that resonate. Husky-sounding and true, ‘Beloved’ is a current take on a ‘30s to ‘50s jazz show in the spirit of Billie Holiday. And her voice is immense enough to carry it.
The inclusion of pop belters ‘80s synth-laden ‘Tonight Tonight’ and the more ‘90s sounding ‘Stop This Flame’ both inject instant, more immediate energy. Rather than being pure repetition of the recorded versions, the addition of a strong orchestral dimension make them stand out.
Just before ‘Tell Me Something I Don’t Know’ there is a prolonged cheer, and it is deserving. The trippy, dream-pop song is an example of one of Celeste’s qualities. What she does well is building on past musical style and genre, while adding fresh relevance.
Celeste doesn’t that speak much in-between songs, but when she does, it has immediate impact. Introducing ‘Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos’ with innocent sweetness and a quiet giggle helps build instant rapport with the crowd. Accompanied only by electric guitar, it is a poignant delivery that reiterates the cliché of less being more. The rendition of encore track ‘Strange’ is just something else.
Introducing it as a song she wrote “a couple of Novembers ago”, it is a quiet, soothing and intimate. Confessional and reflective in nature, it depicts her vocal strength and emotional fragility, equipping her audience with a special moment to take away before leaving.
Her popularity can in part be explained by the intelligent, subtly blurred lines between genre. Yes, the starting point is soul and jazz, but she interprets that widely – and with startling imagination.
Ultimately, the performance celebrates Celeste’s range and ability with nuance, and there is every reason to view it as signifying the beginning of the next chapter in her journey, encapsulating her timeless and contemporary quality - all in one.
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Celeste: On With The Show, Live from London is available to stream now via LIVENow. Tickets are on sale: www.live-now.com
Words: Susan Hansen