It’s only a matter of time before British R&B-pop sensation Jessie Ware  outgrows the small, cozy Rickshaw Stops of the music world. Last Thursday, at her first-ever SF show, Ware’s commanding, poised performance showed massive potential, more befitting of a full-on diva for the 21st century than a blog-popster du jour.
While her stateside popularity hasn’t yet caught up to her reputation across the pond, Ware captured the full attention of the indie-music press with her debut LP, Devotion, released last year. Influenced by her earlier work with producers like SBTRKT, the album demonstrated a level of artfulness and musical nuance, atypical of your average vocal pop album. Much like Katy B and AlunaGeorge, Ware has raised eyebrows by integrating big, upfront, Sade-esque vocals into the music-first world of bloggy electronica.
The integrity of Ware’s productions calls for a solid touring band to bring them to life onstage, which her live ensemble delivered in full. With real drums, guitars, and bass added to her synth-dominated textures, live renditions of “Still Love Me” and “Devotion” were noticeably groovier, funkier, and harder-hitting than their studio counterparts. Vigorous cuts like “Running” and “No to Love” lent themselves perfectly to the live treatment, with robust drum kicks, bass slaps, and guitar stabs punctuating Ware’s soaring vocals to great effect.
“Wildest Moments” and “If You’re Never Gonna Move” (titled “110%” before a recent legal dispute) were slightly less successful, if only due to their live interpretations not deviating much from the originals. Still, they were the biggest crowd-pleasers of the night, working the sold-out crowd into a frenzy.
A cover of Bobby Caldwell’s soul ballad “What You Won’t Do For Love” came about halfway through the set, performed solely by Ware and her guitarist, while Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” made an appearance, right smack in the middle of her own “No to Love.” Though her hour-long set was never in danger of going stale, these little surprises and dynamic shifts made it all the more engaging.
Despite the steely professionalism of her musical output, and the elegance of her public image, Ware’s stage presence was completely disarming. She seemed awestruck by her success, approaching the audience with endearing modesty and self-deprecation, while never failing to make a compelling case for her talent.
Ware’s vocal delivery was impressive and magnetic, but not the least bit showy, revealing a level of restraint and refinement beyond her years. This, coupled with her engaging persona, and her backing band’s cool competence, resulted in a wholly captivating hour of music, which left little room for criticism or deduction.
It’s quite amazing that Ware has arrived on the scene so fully formed, and with such a righteous vision of pop music’s potential. She is clearly going places, and on Thursday night, 350 lucky fans likely witnessed the start of something big.