sun 26/05/2024

Paloma Faith, Shepherds Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Paloma Faith, Shepherds Bush Empire

Paloma Faith, Shepherds Bush Empire

Former magician's assistant conjures up glitz with a smile

Paloma Faith: the bluesy, soulful voice invites comparisons with Amy Winehouse

She’s a former magician’s assistant from Hackney, and on the first of three sold-out nights in London, before our very eyes, Paloma Faith conjured up an evening of uplifting and energetic entertainment: glittery and glamorous, warm and friendly. The music itself was memorable, but what stuck in my mind more than anything was her smile; she was having the time of her life, and it showed in a big broad grin that could light up a neighbourhood.

Faith, who owes her exotic first name to her half-Spanish parenthood, came to prominence last summer with her debut single, “Stone Cold Sober”, on which she showed off the bluesy, soulful voice that instantly invited comparisons with Amy Winehouse. In truth, Faith’s vocal ability is not quite in the same league as Winehouse’s – she doesn’t have Winehouse’s easy, natural way with a musical phrase – but still, she can sing a bit. And what she does have over Winehouse is a winning way with a crowd; she’s in her element on stage, chatting and giggling and flirting.

And she certainly believes in putting on a show. Last night the Shepherds Bush Empire stage was decorated like the set of a Fellini film, and dominated by a towering multi-faceted mirrored structure (which also acted as a dressing room when she disappeared to change from her lemon-yellow outfit into a figure-hugging black dress which sparkled like a constellation). A small, smartly dressed band added visual sharpness, while three backing singers swayed and shimmied.

And if there was anyone in the crowd who felt initial resistance to her charms, they were surely won over early in the show when Faith asked for a male companion to come up on stage to sit next to her during “Romance Is Dead”. Hands shot up in the air, but she immediately pounced on one young man at the front: a very young man, in fact, by the name of Troy, who I would guess was about 10 years old. He had to be hoisted up onto the stool next to Faith where he smiled winningly and sang along to the chorus. His reward: a lovely big kiss on the cheek.

This was not the subtlest show I’ve witnessed: the band blasted away and sounded a bit sludgy, and Faith’s voice was at times a bit on the raucous side. Also, she and her band committed what can only be described as an assassination of the Beatles’ “You Never Give Me Your Money”: all bluster and noise and changes of pace, it was a disaster. Rather better was a heartfelt and quavery rendition of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” (Holiday is one of Faith’s big influences). But, while it had its musical shortcomings, this show was never less than fun, and Faith was always eminently watchable as she pouted and grinned and flounced and strode; simultaneously sexy and gauche, slinky and silly.

In times to come she will doubtless have more than an album’s worth of songs - Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful -  to fill out her shows, but here, having exhausted her repertoire after an hour and a bit, she reappeared for the encore in another gorgeous creation, this time in vivid red, and brought the show to a close with the big, gutsy, gospelly “New York”. The crowd sang along with gusto. What a pleasure it was to witness a singer and performer who owes nothing to Pop Idol or The X Factor, who hasn’t been schooled or groomed or coached, but who is simply herself.

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