Jessie Ware, Alexandra Palace, review: A joyous, high-camp disco tour-de-force

 Ware mixed down-to-earth familiarity with outward, lusty expression - it looked as much fun onstage as it did off

What a wonderfully, knowingly camp introduction Jessie Ware gave at the start of a night of unadulterated disco fever. “You are at The Pearl,” Ware said as she presented her stage set, an elaborate, neon-lit, fictional cabaret-cum-queer nightclub. “And tonight my name is Mother of Pearl!”

How far Ware has travelled from the stylised, refined pop-soul balladry of her first albums. The past few years has seen women in pop lead a significant disco revival – Kylie, Dua, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Roisin Murphy have all taken from the genre to differing degrees – but none of them pulled it off more convincingly, or with as much panache, as Ware.

After 2017’s middle-of-the-road Glasshouse relatively flopped, the south Londoner’s classy 2020 What’s Your Pleasure? proved the perfect escapist soundtrack to lockdown kitchen parties; this year’s sexually charged That! Feels Good! upped the ante further with a fuller, more opulent sound and enhanced pop chops courtesy of a collaboration with the likes of Madonna-cohort Stuart Price. The reinvention has not just been a creative boon: Friday was the first of two sold-out nights at Alexandra Palace, Ware’s biggest-ever shows.

Ware now plays the role of disco queen to a tee. She arrived onstage in a flowing red chiffon dress flanked by a troupe of musicians, dancers and singers – collectively named, naturally, The Pearlettes – and opened with the sultry funk of the latest album’s title track, during which Ware danced provocatively, all-knowing winks and suggestive moves (how refreshing to see a mother of nearly 40, now in the mainstream, embrace her sexuality so flagrantly).

What followed was a joyous, high-camp, flawlessly executed and exuberantly performed disco tour-de-force. There were the odd occasional reminders of her past; signature tune “Say You Love Me”, from 2014 breakthrough album Tough Love, was a stunning Adele-esque piano ballad that gave Ware the most obvious opportunity to showcase her magnificent, dynamic, rangey vocals.

But for the most part, Ware totally inhabited her role as The Pearl’s star turn. A genial host – “I like to think we could all have dinner together,” she said, a reference to her award-winning food podcast Table Manners – Ware mixed down-to-earth familiarity with outward, lusty expression. Amid several costume changes, at various points she got up close and intimate with the shirtless male dancers and writhed on the microphone stand; during the airy electronics of “What’s Your Pleasure?” she whipped a sliver glittery microphone lead around. It looked as much fun onstage as it did off.

The tunes backed up the theatrics. The dizzying “Pearls”, aided by the addition of a giant disco ball, and “Save a Kiss” genuinely sound plucked from the dancefloor of Studio 54; “Hello Love” came over like a classic, seductive end-of-night soul-dance slowie. Her standard cover of Cher’s “Believe”, which began with Ware in the middle of the crowd, inevitably went down a storm.

“The Pearl Club is closing now – it’s your last chance to dance,” she warned before an extended finale of “Free Yourself”, an anthemic, house-tinged ode to self-affirmation – the sort Ware has found in the most remarkable of transformations.

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